Hundreds of taxis drafted in by under-fire ambulance service to respond to Leeds 999 calls

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Hundreds of private hire taxis have been drafted in to drive Leeds 999 patients to hospitals on behalf of the county’s under-fire ambulance service.

Nearly 500 taxis responded to 999 emergency calls in Leeds in 2014 as opposed to just four the year prior. Taxi response to 999 calls in Yorkshire rose from 20 in 2013 to 2.039 last year.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) has explained that all patients taken to A&E by taxi have less urgent needs and have been dealt with by its triage teams by phone.

Exclusive figures show that YAS’s reliance on private taxi firms for both 999 emergencies and the Patient Transport Service, where the trust transports known patients to routine appointments, cost the organisation £1.136m from April 2013 to March 2014 – up around £300,000 from 2009/10.

The figures have been released as part of our Your Right to Know campaign, in which we uncover information and statistics from public bodies through legislation that is available to us.

Coun Debra Coupar is chair of Leeds City Council’s health scrutiny board which recently quizzed trust chiefs over YAS performance. She said: “It raises safety concerns with me that there are unqualified drivers taking patients – it’s not fair on private hire drivers either.”

YAS, which resolved a two-year dispute with union Unite this week, has come under fire for failing to hit national targets of responding to 75 per cent of the most serious ‘red’ 999 calls in eight minutes. The target was hit in 60.61 per cent of cases amid December’s high demand.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland claims to have raised the matter of dealing with high demand at YAS with Health Minister Jeremy Hunt. He said: “The figures uncovered by the Yorkshire Evening Post paint a worrying picture.”

Maureen Idle, of the Leeds Hospital Alert campaign group, described the situation as “appalling”. She said: “What are they meant to do if somebody goes into cardiac arrest? They are not equipped for it.”

YAS locality director Ben Holdaway said that the triage system helps to determine the most appropriate response to patients, which is not always an ambulance. He added: “Patients’ needs are at the heart of everything we do and our absolute focus is to ensure that we provide a safe, responsive and high quality 999 service.”