More than €8.1 million was spent on private ambulances last year, compared to €4.4 million in 2014, according to data released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information legislation.
The figures reveal that spending continues to rise annually. In 2016, the HSE spent €7.6 million, while in 2015, private ambulances cost the HSE €6.3 million.
Mayo University Hospital was the largest spender last year, accruing a cost of more than €920,000, the data reveals.
It is closely followed by Letterkenny University Hospital (€837,000), while Sligo University Hospital is in third place at €588,000.
The data relates to the use of private ambulances at acute hospitals and other HSE settings such as mental health facilities, community services, community nursing units, disability services and older people’s services.
Separately, more than €200,000 was spent on private ambulances within the country’s nine Community Healthcare Organisations (CHOs) last year.
The HSE said the increases are in “direct correlation with the increases in demand for services”.
“In the last few years, overall hospital activity levels have increased and current analysis would suggest that this increase in private ambulance expenditure is a direct result of the increase in hospital activity.”
Private ambulances are used by the HSE to transfer “non-urgent public patients” between hospitals and HSE healthcare units and there is a “significant requirement” for their use.
According to the HSE, the ambulances provide “additional capacity to handle such transfers where deemed necessary and required by the HSE”.
“Taxis may also be used in cases where an ambulance is not required, for example to transfer dialysis patients from home to an acute hospital.”
The HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) responds to emergency calls, assisting patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Annually, the NAS receives up to 280,000 emergency calls.
The HSE operates a framework agreement with private ambulance providers, including Lifeline Ambulance Service, Medicall Ambulance Service, Medilink Ambulance Service and Beaumont Private Ambulance.
A new framework agreement and procurement process for private ambulance providers is planned, with a tender due to be issued this month and a new contracting model in place by September.
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Deputy Louise O’Reilly has previously raised the issue of increased spending on private ambulances by the HSE.
Deputy O’Reilly stated last year that unless the HSE invests in new ambulances, the asset stock will continue to fall and the Executive will become even more reliant on private providers.