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Police plugging ambulance gaps: Concern grows

New figures spark fresh concern that police cars are too often being relied on to transport patients, including those injured in car accidents

Fresh concern has been raised that police forces across England and Wales are still being regularly relied on to transport patients - sometimes hundreds each year - to hospital because no ambulance can be freed-up.

In some areas the number of people transported to hospital by police has more than doubled in the past two years.

Some cases include people involved in car accidents who are in urgent need of medical attention.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed that in one region - southern Wales - the number of people taken to hospital by police car shot up from 83 in 2012-13 to 187 in the last financial year.

This amounts to more than three incidents each week.

Widespread problem

Police cars taking on the role of ambulances has long been a feature in several areas of England too, including London and Essex.

Mark Smith, Chairman of Essex Police Federation, said: "In Essex the problem is not getting worse, but it is not getting any better. We have conveyed to hospital people that are in car accidents, people that are bleeding and in need of urgent attention. I don't think the public would say that is acceptable.

"Police vehicles are designed for policing. There is a vehicle designed for taking people to hospital so they can be worked on in the back on the way, and that is an ambulance." 

The Metropolitan Police’s Head of Criminal Justice recently said ambulances rather than police vehicles should "ideally" be used to transport patients to hospital in all cases - but he added that, since ambulance workers were overstretched, this aim was "aspirational."

'Filling gaps'

Delays in unloading ambulances at accident and emergency departments has been identified as a possible reason for delays - and ambulance services say they are trying to find ways to respond to calls more quickly.

Elin Jones, shadow health spokesperson for Plaid Cymru, the Welsh political party that made the FoI request about incidents in Wales, said: “My fear is that one day someone may die in a police car while on the way to hospital because an ambulance is not available.

"There clearly needs to be better management within the NHS so that vehicles aren’t tied up waiting at hospitals."

Mike Collins, Director of Service Delivery at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said the service was working with police to reduce instances "where our emergency colleagues are awaiting an ambulance response."

He added: "Despite the increase in calls that we experience year on year we are actually reaching more and more people across Wales than ever before. 

“We recognise that on occasions we are short of the eight-minute target for these most serious calls but are working, and will continue to work, as hard as we can to get to patients as quickly as possible."

Last year the Police Federation warned that police were being asked to fill gaps where other emergency services were under strain because of cuts.

Cumbria's new Chief Constable Jerry Graham also recently said the police was now regarded as the "organisation of last resort."

He added: "The instinct of officers is to help people. As other public services have had to take cuts we have found ourselves increasingly filling these gaps."

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