Setting up a private ambulance service requires expertise, capital, and highly trained staff. But no one ever said being an entrepreneur was easy. Here we share our advice on building an ambulance business that’s not only profitable but also rewarding.
Health and medical services are always a necessity, regardless of the state of the economy. As the elderly population in the UK continues to grow, demand for these services will only continue to increase. As such, private ambulance services have come to emerge more and more to supplement public ones.
A primer on the growing private ambulance service industry
In London, a bellwether for trends in the rest of the country, public spending on private ambulance services has grown thirteen-fold from £700,000 in 2011 to £10.1m in 2016. Private industries in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and Yorkshire have also demonstrated impressive growth. With over 200 private providers already operating in the UK, ambulance services are a solid growth industry.
Such high growth doesn’t mean it will be easy! But that’s all right: starting a business never is! If you require some advice for starting truly from scratch, start off by reading our general guide on how to start a business and get your start-up off the ground.
One of the first steps you need to take is to assess what kind of ambulance is in demand in your area of business. There are two distinct services a company can offer.
Emergency Ambulance Services
An Emergency Ambulance Service involves expensively outfitted, highly equipped vans that operate on a standby system, staffed and ready for dispatch at a moment’s notice. These ambulance systems transport accident victims and people with other emergency health issues to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible. Certified medical personnel are responsible for stabilizing patients and delivering them to emergency medical services. Electricity-intensive medical equipment like defibrillators and monitors as well as oxygen tanks and medical waste storage need to be at-hand.
Non-emergency medical transportation
This second kind of service requires far less equipment and training among personnel. Normally, it requires no more than readiness to apply basic first aid and the willingness to extend a helping hand. These vehicles often transport patients between medical facilities, either within a single hospital complex or to and from appointments with physicians.
Note that many ambulance service entrepreneurs choose a crossover model, offering both emergency and non-emergency services.
Canvassing the local health services market and competition
In deciding what type of service to provide, first consider local demand. Are local public emergency services under stress, and in need of auxiliary support from private companies? If so, your business might be of interest to the NHS’s 999 emergency services.
Regardless of encouraging growth trends, you will need to thoroughly assess the local competition. Ask yourself whether the local market is big enough to support another service. Speak with local hospitals, fire departments, and other medical service providers. If there isn’t any local competition, all the better.
Networking is an indispensable aspect of gathering resources to initiate any business start-up; connections with local medical providers will be vital components of your success. Non-emergency services work most closely with specific hospital and medical practitioners. Relationships made during the research period will continue to serve your business in later phases as you develop coordinated business with both the local medical community and emergency services.
Keep in mind that emergency ambulance services in particular can create bridges to service less obvious markets, like the provision of ambulances at private or public events, construction sites, sports games, and film sets.
Capital requirements of a successful private ambulance service
Private ambulance services require significant resources – human as well as material. These will need to be accounted for as part of writing your business plan. The kind of service you will provide will, to a large extent, be determined by how much capital you are able to raise.
Equipment on wheels and on-board
Medical equipment can make emergency ambulance service vehicles quite capital-intensive, as well as other features such as the capacity to secure stretchers, wheelchair access, and others. Non-emergency services, on the other hand, may only require lightly outfitted vans with a focus on accessibility.
Public and private ambulance services generally rely on customized vehicles given their specific business requirements. Ambulances are one of the many accredited conversions we can offer at Renault; typically based on the Renault Master or Renault Trafic, these models come with a manufacturer’s warranty for added security. We can also offer truly bespoke vehicle solutions through our network of accredited converters.
In the likely event that you plan on conducting your business with more than one vehicle, you should also consider maintenance obligations for fleet upkeep. Maintenance and stocking of emergency service vehicles can be intensive. Many choose to employ some kind of maintenance management software solution to keep track of their fleet, especially if it consists of more than two vehicles. Larger fleets often require a maintenance specialist or maintenance team. In this industry more than any other, upkeep can be a matter of life and death.
Gathering the relevant expertise
In drafting your business plan, keep in mind that hiring consultants and employees will be required at an early stage. A medical director specialising in emergency medicine will be one of your first. You’ll rely on him or her to write the company’s care protocols and procedure manual, detailing how paramedics or drivers treat patients in specific instances.
Location, location, location
Those seeking a competitive advantage will also think about location. While ambulances can sit in standby almost anywhere, the business will require a place for fleet storage, restocking, and maintenance. A competitive ambulance company is located near its patients. Think areas with a high density of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and senior citizen housing. Proximity to thoroughfares and highways is also a plus.
Compliance with health services regulation
As you can no doubt imagine, opening up your private ambulance service business will require a number of permits and independent inspections. Health care services being devolved matters, you will need to register with different regulators depending on where your business is based within the UK. In England, private ambulance services are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) ; they fall under the purview of Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) in Scotland, and under that of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) in Wales.
To meet regulators’ standards of quality care, it is essential that you consult the information made available by these bodies, register with them wherever appropriate and submit to their inspections. Not keeping up with the requirements of the commission can put your registration, and your business, in jeopardy. Before seeking outside investment, be sure to read the CQC’S provider handbook to learn about compliance with best practice. Those who participate in NHS emergency services will also be subject to the quality control standards of that organization in addition.
Incidentally, these heavy regulations and large capital investments make it worthwhile to explore [franchise options] before attempting to start your own company from scratch. In the end, it could be more profitable, and less likely to fail. Research is your friend.
Make the most of veterans’ expertise
Like any other specialized industry, always be making connections with others – and not just potential clients. The guidance of others in the industry is an invaluable resource. Speak with the founders and owners of already-existing service providers in other areas. Ask them what worked for them and what didn’t. You might be surprised to find successful entrepreneurs eager to proffer advice for your new business venture. And nothing is as valuable as the counsel of someone with more experience.
While the prospect of getting your ambulance fleet in the streets might be daunting, working in healthcare is also uniquely rewarding. Diligent research and building connections with people are the best ways improve your chances of success.