Sending private ambulances to answer 999 calls in Yorkshire cost the NHS £364,000 in five months, the Yorkshire Evening Post can reveal.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service has been forced to use private firms to respond to emergency calls for the first time because of high demand.
Between last December and April this year, private ambulances were sent to more than 1,600 call-outs.
That included 585 in the Leeds, Bradford and Airedale area in February alone.
Ambulance bosses are currently reviewing their plans for next winter but would not rule out using private providers again.
The move comes as all health bodies are being forced to save four per cent of their budget each year.
George Mudie, Labour MP for Leeds East, criticised the spending, warning it was ‘privatisation by the back door’.
He told the YEP: “It’s a staggering amount of money to be spending on private firms to provide an NHS service.
“It also begs serious questions about why they [Yorkshire Ambulance Service] cannot themselves meet the demand for emergency responses over the winter months.
“I think it is basically privatisation by the back door.”
Mr Mudie first raised concerns in March this year when the YEP revealed commercial firms were answering 999 calls in Leeds.
Now information obtained by the YEP under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that two private companies were enlisted to respond to emergency calls for five months last winter, at a cost of £364,404.
West Yorkshire saw the highest number of calls where a private ambulance attended, with 1,286 in Leeds, Bradford and Airedale and a further 224 in Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield.
David Williams, deputy director of operations for Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “As a professional ambulance service we would always prefer to respond to patients using our own staff and vehicles.
“However, when demand for our services is particularly high, our own resources can be complemented by private ambulance service providers.
“This is common practice amongst ambulance services throughout the country.”
He said that between December 2011 and April 2012, the service attended 287,289 emergency incidents – 0.6 per cent of which were answered by private ambulances.
“Safeguards and operating standards are in place to ensure that the use of private ambulance services does not compromise patient safety and the organisations we work with are all registered with the Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator of all health and social care services in England,” he added.
Demand on emergency healthcare is growing, with more calls being made to ambulance services and increasing numbers going to A&E.
Last week it was revealed that dozens of ambulance stations across Yorkshire could shut as part of a major cost-cutting programme.
A report said savings would be reinvested in frontline care.