Jaguars, Range Rovers and BMW X5s driven by ambulance staff on the NHS
PUBLISHED: 08:28 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:31 20 May 2019
Ambulance bosses say the cost of leasing cars to staff is going down - despite Jaguars, a BMW X5, sport model Audis and Land Rovers being among vehicles driven.
Costing the taxpayer nearly £700,000 in 2018-19, the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) has released a list of personal lease cars used by senior managers, top executives and blue light workers.
On average, each car costs the NHS £3,500 - bringing the total bill for 195 vehicles to £692,462.23.
However, if staff want a higher spec or more luxurious vehicle like a Jaguar they can pay for one out of their own pocket, so long as it meets NHS requirements. It does not cost the NHS any more to do this.
The total value of the cars out on a lease comes to almost £4 million (£3.67m) - and the list includes a £54,905 BMW X5, a £44,585 Jaguar F-Pace, a £32,745 Jaguar XF and a £42,920 Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said he encouraged EEAST to "transparently review its approach to the leasing of unmarked vehicles" back in 2016, adding: "The trust did carry out a review later that year but the outcome was not significantly different to its policy, which as far as Healthwatch Suffolk understands, is not at odds with other ambulance trusts.
"The key difference was about improving emissions and the trust's environmental footprint."
Mr Yacoub said the organisation would rather the money was spent elsewhere.
"Healthwatch Suffolk is aware of the continued financial pressures that are faced by the trust and of course all our NHS and social care organisations," he added.
"Winter pressures are particularly challenging for trusts operating across large swathes of rural areas. We do however expect the quality of patient care and staffing matters to be central to any budgeting considerations.
"Transport and the choice of vehicles requires careful thinking. The leasing of vehicles needs to be based on need, sensible budget management and a joined-up approach, in order to maximise negotiating power for agreeing value for money contracts.
"We would therefore encourage the trust to transparently reconsider the proportion of the budget allotted to its mainly management focused approach to the leasing of unmarked vehicles."
However, trust bosses say spending on lease cars has fallen by around 16% in the last two years.
"We are always conscious of the need to make best use of NHS resources," a spokesman said.
"The average cost to the trust of these vehicles is £3,500.
"Many employees travel more than 10,000 miles a year on trust business. "Reimbursing such travel at the HMRC-approved rates would cost £4,500 - so in many cases, this is a highly cost-effective approach.
"Most of the vehicles on this list are used by frontline staff who respond to blue light emergencies across the 7,500 miles we cover.
They added: "Ambulance officers' lease cars are fitted with blue lights and sirens so they can respond to patients in their local community or manage the scene at serious or major incidents or emergencies.
"All new blue light user cars also have 4x4 or all-wheel drive capability so officers can reach the patients who need our help in any weather and through difficult terrain."
It came when the service was under "tremendous pressure" with soaring numbers of patients and 999 calls.