Police say they will not replace striking ambulance drivers as health trusts scramble to limit the effects of a wave of industrial action.
The trusts, which are responsible for running ambulances, have approached individual police forces to see if officers might ferry patients to and from hospital.
Police chiefs, however say their forces are too busy and that relatively few police drivers with the necessary C1 licence needed to drive an ambulance.
Health services are bracing for strikes later this month. Ultimately the decision will be up to each of the 43 local forces across England and Wales, which are operationally independent, as is the national British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear constabulary.
The National Police Chiefs Council, representing law enforcement’s leadership, said on Friday that requests to drive ambulances were highly likely to be rebuffed.
Assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill, the national mobilisation coordinator, said: “Policing must ensure it can deliver its own core business. Police officers already deal with issues that arise from ambulance attendance times, often related to mental health incidents.
“For officers to drive an ambulance, they need to have a specific driving qualification, which many within policing do not hold. If officers do hold this, it means they also have a qualification to drive police vehicles needed for dealing with public order incidents and are needed by forces.
“Preservation of life will always be policing’s number one priority and that has not changed. Policing is often seen as the service of last resort, but chiefs must make decisions balancing ever-growing demands. The demands on policing are significant and it is vital that we deliver our own priorities to protect the public and catch criminals first.”
Police vehicles tend to be lighter than ambulances and thus require a different driving licence.
One source estimated that only a few hundred officers across England and Wales were licensed to drive an ambulance.
The Met loaned officers to the London ambulance service during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, but that was at a time when the demands of policing were lower because of the lockdown.