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Lives put at risk by ambulance crews filling up vehicles with wrong fuel

Lives are being put at risk due to weeks of ambulance time being lost each year because crews are accidentally filling vehicles with the wrong fuel, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

An investigation reveals there have been at least 769 incidents of ‘misfueling’ across the UK since 2012, with affected ambulances out of action for days and in some cases weeks at a time.

The problem is so persistent that in some areas NHS bosses are trialling audio alerts to remind paramedics to use the correct fuel.

The data, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, emerges as ambulance trusts face mounting pressure due to the crisis in A&E departments and their own staffing shortages.

Poor availability was blamed this winter when taxis were used to ferry critically ill patients to hospital and a patient froze to death while waiting for an ambulance.

Last night campaigners said misfueling mistakes was threatening public safety and waste taxpayers’ money.

South East Coast Ambulance Service, which at 156 incidents was the worst offending trust, has spent at least £51,555 repairing misfueled ambulances since 2012, a sum which could have employed two full-time paramedics for a year.

The largest individual cost was £14,310 after an engine was so badly damaged it had to be replaced.

The trust said it had steadily lowered its rate of misfueling due to increasingly using NHS-owned ‘bunkering’ hubs, rather than normal roadside petrol stations.

However, documents from London Ambulance Service, which suffered 69 incidents over the last two years, indicate that misfueling can also take place at NHS hubs.

An ambulance that is misfuelled – typically where petrol is put into a diesel engine – first needs to be recovered, then have its engine drained.

Often the fuel filter will then need to be replaced and the vehicle undergo road tests before it is allowed back into service.

The data from London shows its 69 misfuelled ambulances were out of action for a total of 1,902 hours, or 27.5 hours per ambulance.

If the same average is applied across all 769 known incidents, it means the UK has lost at least 881 days of operational ambulance time since the start of 2012, around 25 weeks a year.

Even on a more conservative estimate, which excludes the handful of London ambulances off the road for several days, which boosted the overall mean average, the more typical six to eight-hour repair period equates to six weeks’ lost ambulance time nationally a year.

Misfueling puts the ambulances out of action, causing problems all over the country for an already overstretched NHS 

Credit:
Yui Mok/PA

Other trusts with high misfueling rates include Yorkshire, which had 123 incidents costing the taxpayer more than £20,000, and North West Ambulance Service, which had 124 incidents costing £30,600.

Scottish Ambulance Service said it had suffered 64 incidents at a total cost of £8,393, while Wales had 58, costing £17,886.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, West Midlands and East of England all refused to disclose their rates.

John O’Connell, Chief Executive at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “These findings are very concerning.

“These mistakes don’t only waste taxpayers money but also is a threat to patient safety.’  

A spokesman for South East Coast Ambulance Service said: “As a trust we have implemented control measures to reduce the risk of these events occurring by ensuring all our vehicles have a label fitted to the vehicle fuel flap indicating to staff the correct grade of fuel to be used. We have also trialled audible fuel alerts and various misfuel devices but as a trust we have seen a drop in these type of events over the last 3 years.”

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/07/lives-put-risk-ambulance-crews-filling-vehicles-wrong-fuel/

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