MORE than £16m has been splashed out on private ambulances for patients across the county.

South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) spent the most out of the country’s ten ambulance trusts in a bid to cope with increasing demand.

Its expenditure has increased year-on-year from £12,292,000 in 2014/15 and £13,610,000 in 2015/16.

Spokesman for the trust David Gallagher said the rise in spending is ‘directly related’ to the annual increase on emergency services.

He said: “In 2016/17, our emergency 999 demand for patients suffering a life-threatening emergency increased by 20 per cent from the prior year, and without the private providers we would currently not have enough resources to get to all the patients who need us.

“Red calls now account for over 40 per cent of the more than 560,000 emergency 999 calls we receive every year.

“Whilst undoubtedly a growing and ageing population places additional pressures across all health and social care services, it is the overall increase in demand from all patient groups as well as a higher proportion of life-threatening emergency calls in that overall demand, combined at a time of national paramedic shortages, that have contributed to the increase in private ambulance spending.”

SCAS’s existing frontline resources are insufficient to meet the public’s needs, despite it reducing its vacancy rate from 19 per cent to 12 per cent.

In 2016/17 the trust spent £16.3m on private ambulances, which is 9.25 per cent of its total operating expenditure.

Private ambulances are hired from private firms as well as charities such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross.