The HSE spent almost €400,000 on private ambulance transport in Galway in the first six months of this year.
The health authority spent €123,295 for non emergency ambulance transport to private ambulance operators for Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and €272,243 for University and Merlin Park hospitals from January to June this year.
Last year €557,679 was spent for UHG and Merlin Park hospitals while €171,697 was spent on private ambulances by Portiuncula Hospital.
Hitting out at the HSE's spending on private ambulances in the west Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton stated it was "utterly mind-boggling". In 2015 the State paid €3,327,642.79 for such transport within the Saolta University Healthcare Group which comprises six hospitals - in Letterkenny, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.
"In 2012 the HSE established a dedicated patient transport service for patients needing to attend appointments or be transferred between facilities on a non emergency basis. The HSE purchased specialist ambulances and hired emergency medical technicians to staff the operation.
"Now I learn that spending on private ambulance transport, which this State service was to reduce, has actually increased in the six hospitals in the Saolta Group. The total sum paid to private operators in 2014 was €2,370,060.49. This increased last year to €3,327,642.79. That is nearly a million euro increase in just one year. Each of six hospitals in the group showed increased payments in 2015. The payments to June of this year illustrate a similar pattern to last year."
She said it was important to note that these payments came directly from hospital budgets and not from the budget of the National Ambulance Service. She described it as money that was badly needed yet was being "wasted".
"Having investigated the matter, it would appear that the system underpinning the provision of public ambulance transport is dysfunctional. I accept fully that our hospitals need to discharge patients or send them for procedures or appointments in other locations as early in the day as possible, sometimes as early as 6am. This obviously frees up much needed beds.
"However, the ambulance service refuses to roster any intermediate care operative before 8am so as to avoid paying shift or overtime pay. Nor will they countenance the payment of overtime on any other occasion. The expenditure on private ambulances last year alone would pay for approximately another 20 public ambulances to be operational 12 hours a day on a year round basis in the Saolta region."
Deputy Naughton outlined there were huge savings to be made if intermediate care ambulances would be made available outside core hours.
"Whatever limited amount of extra spending this involves will undoubtedly be far less than the millions currently being spent on private operators."