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Taxis 'picking up 999 patients instead of ambulances'

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: November 27, 2013

158 taxis attended 999 calls in the region in 2012/13, up from 35 occasions in 2009/10

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More than 150 taxis were sent to 999 emergency calls instead of ambulances to pick up patients in the South West last year, it has been revealed.

Andy Burnham, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said the South Western Ambulance Service  (SWAS) has seen a 350% rise in the number of taxis attending 999 calls.
The figures were obtained by the party via a Freedom of Information request showing 158 taxis attended 999 calls in the region in 2012/13, up from 35 occasions in 2009/10.
Mr Burnham also claimed other ambulance services are using police cars and retained firefighters to attend calls.
SWAS is a giant single organisation covering more than 10,000 square miles. Last year it was enlarged following its acquisition of neighbouring Great Western Ambulance Service.
In addition to Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the area now covered by the service now includes Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the former county of Avon.
Mr Burnham claimed his evidence showed the deepening crisis in accident and emergency (A&E) wards as ambulances become "trapped" at A&Es and unable to handover patients.
He also urged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take action now to avoid the ambulance hold-ups "engulfing" other emergency services.
But Mr Hunt accused his shadow of talking up a crisis that is not happening and said the coalition was hitting its targets, unlike the last Labour administration when Mr Burnham was health secretary.
Mr Burnham told Mr Hunt during health questions: "Today I want to put to you new evidence that the A&E crisis is deepening and having a serious knock-on effect on ambulance services.
"Information from police forces reveals that police cars having to ferry patients to A&E is far more widespread than people realise and in some areas happening on a daily basis.
"One ambulance service is now using retained firefighters to attend calls but this is how bad things have got – another ambulance service has seen a 350% increase in the number of 999 calls attended by taxis.
"Do you think it's ever acceptable that when a patient dials 999 a taxi turns up instead?"
Mr Hunt replied: "I'm afraid this is utterly irresponsible. We are hitting our A&E target, we are hitting our ambulance standard. When you were health secretary you missed the ambulance standard for October, November, December and January.
"What you are doing is trying to talk up a crisis that isn't happening and you should think about people on the front line and just for once put patients before politics."

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  • Titch  |  November 27 2013, 3:08PM

    Devon Eagle i totally agree however the way things currently stand if someone dials 999 and asks for an ambulance then someone has to be sent ! Many ambulance services seem to be close to breaking point and part of the reason is that crews are spending so much time dealing with inappropriate non life threatening calls and people who really need a Paramedic crew are having to suffer and wait. People are ringing 999 simply because they have no transport or are too intoxicated to drive themselves to A&E - what happened to getting a bus/taxi or getting a friend to drive you? It costs several hundred pounds of tax payers money for an ambulance crew to be sent to a patient and that's before they have given any treatment - if people started being faced with a £200 bill from the ambulance service or paying for a £10 taxi fare maybe they'll think a little more before they ring 999. We're very lucky to have such a great National Health Service in this country - people need to start appreciating that a little more and stop finding ways to abuse it otherwise we'll be lucky if it lasts another 5 years!

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  • DevonEagle  |  November 27 2013, 10:21AM

    I very much doubt that taxis are sent for critically ill persons. If the taxi turns up for them then I doubt they really needed to dial 999. They probably could have just rang for a taxi themselves and got them to take them to A&E.

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  • BrixhamDes  |  November 27 2013, 9:10AM

    This is an absolutely disgusting situation, Jeremy Hunt and his Party should be ashamed of themselves. The reason that we train up Paramedics is to preserve life at the scene and on route to the Hospital. How many Taxi's carry a Defibrillator on board. All Jeremy Hunt is doing is talking DOWN a crisis.

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