Ambulance costs rocket

AN ambulance service’s fuel bill has risen by 17.1 per cent – in the 12 months after Hartlepool’s A&E department was closed and moved 14 miles away.

The North East Ambulance Service’s fuel bill for ambulances working in Hartlepool and across Teesside came in at a whopping £634,750 from August 2011 to 2012.

The fuel costs for the previous year, from August 2010 to August 2011, were £541,895.

This is a difference of £92,855.

The figures, revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Mail, show that the ambulance service’s fuel bill shot up from August 2011, when the University Hospital of Hartlepool’s accident and emergency department closed and was re-located to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

But today the North East Ambulance Service, and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said the rise could not just be blamed on the relocation of Hartlepool’s accident and emergency department.

Spokeswomen for both organisations argued that the soaring bill could also be down to the price hike in fuel across the country, and also the destinations the ambulances were travelling to and from, and how many calls they had each day.

A spokeswoman for the ambulance service said: “The North East Ambulance Service is subject to the increase in fuel prices as much as the general public – though we do purchase it at a slightly lower rate, due to being an emergency service.

“Across the North-East as a whole, our fleet covers 10 million miles every year.

“Looking at how fuel prices have risen since 2010 to 11, we’re not surprised to see an increase of around £90,000 for covering the Hartlepool area by 2011 to 2012.”

And a spokeswoman for the Trust said: “The important thing is that the patient is taken to the best team of healthcare professionals who can give them the very best chance of survival and recovery.”

But Keith Fisher, chairman of the Save Our Hospital Campaign, said: “It’s simple arithmetic, in general terms if you move a destination further away, then you’re going to spend more in petrol. We are in times of austerity and are trying to save money, we shouldn’t be spending more. I’m appalled quite frankly.”