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Ambulance crews receiving private health care

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:38 06 July 2010

The region's ambulance bosses have been accused of double standards after spending more than £150,000 on sending staff for private treatment rather than NHS healthcare.

The region's ambulance bosses have been accused of double standards after spending more than £150,000 on sending staff for private treatment rather than NHS healthcare.

More than 800 paramedics and other staff with the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, which serves Norfolk and Suffolk and four other counties, have received private treatment over the past three years.

The figures, which were obtained by the Liberal Democrats in a Free-dom of Information (FOI) request, revealed that staff could avoid waiting lists when the public had to wait weeks or months for treatment.

But the trust said staff sometimes needed treatment for injuries suffered lifting and manoeuvring patients or counselling after attending terrible road crashes or other harrowing incidents and private care was the swiftest remedy to get them back to work quickly.

The statistics showed that 265 staff received private treatment in 2007 to 2008, at a cost of £71,409, while 264 were treated in 2008 to 2009, £75,546.

A further 273 staff received treatment in 2006 to 2007, although no cost figure was available for this year and treatment was mostly physiotherapy, counselling and support, and other care.

Nationally, the NHS paid £1.5m for private healthcare in the past three years, with more than 3,000 staff sent to private doctors.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: "It makes sense for the NHS to want to get doctors and nurses back to work as quickly as possible but these figures will be little comfort for those people stuck on waiting lists trying to get access to treatment.

"It simply isn't fair to have one service for staff and another for everyone else. It would be much fairer if everyone had the right to private treatment, paid for by the NHS, if your local hospital can't provide it when they should.

"If the NHS thinks it necessary to pay for private treatment for its staff to jump waiting lists then it raises serious questions about whether the system is working as it should."

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: "Our crews can sustain physical injuries and witness traumatic scenes in the course of their duties.

"As a responsible employer, we want to get them back to work as quickly as possible so they can continue to provide services to the people of the east of England, and sometimes they need physiotherapy and counselling services."

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