Ambulances are being used as “taxis” the NHS watchdog has warned, saying half of call-outs could be treated on the scene.A new report warns that while 90 per cent of 999 calls are not life-threatening, hundreds of thousands of patients are being taken to hospital when they should have been offered help on the spot.The research by NHS Improvement suggests that up to 700,000 transfers are needless, heaping pressures on A&E departments. Even more visits could be avoided if 999 and 111 phone lines dispatched better advice over the phone, or sent patients to pharmacists or GPs for help, the report says. Lord Carter, the report’s author, said the needless use of ambulances was costing the NHS at least £500m a year – and fuelling risky delays in casualty departments.He said: “Too many patients are being unnecessarily taken to A&E by ambulances, putting further pressure on hospital services that are already on the back foot. Not only is this financially costly, but it takes up staff’s time and means patients are having to spend time waiting in A&E when they should be recovering at home. An ambulance is not a taxi to A&E.”The non-executive director at NHS Improvement said far more patients should be treated at the scene.He urged NHS trusts to improve their technology – such as giving paramedics access to patient records on mobile devices – so more could be given help on the spot. Too often, patients are being taken to hospital, just so medics can see their medical records, the research suggests.“Most paramedics cannot access patient records while attending an incident, which significantly limits their ability to make informed decisions on the scene and results in more patients being taken to hospital. Some ambulance trusts have introduced mobile devices for frontline staff which is an encouraging first step but more needs to be done to ensure full utilisation,” the report states.The report also warns that patients are now “routinely” facing long delays waiting to be handed over by paramedic crews, with the amount of time ambulances spend at hospitals rising by a third in a decade.NHS trusts answered 10 million 999 calls and responded to over seven million separate incidents last year. Nine out of 10 of these calls were not life-threatening, the research shows, yet nearly 60 per cent of responses which saw an ambulance called out resulted in a patient being conveyed to A&E.The watchdog said the NHS should work to reduce the average rate of ambulance transfers to A&E to 50 per cent to help reduce the strain on hospitals.Health officials are fearful about how the NHS will cope this winter, with A&E departments last year having the worst performance on record, as they struggled to cope with surges in demand.NHS watchdogs urged them to act now to cut rates of ambulance transfer in coming months.Lord Carter said: “Paramedics and other staff have worked incredibly hard as demand for ambulances has soared. It is now vital that improvements are made in the infrastructure of the wider NHS to help frontline staff work as efficiently as possible.” The report suggests the proportion of patients transferred by ambulance to hospital should be cut by around 14 per cent, meaing that around half of all cases are treated on the scene.Current pressures mean far too many sick patients are facing long waits in A&E, even before they are handed over by paramedics, the report found.NHS standards say handover should not take longer than 30 minutes. The report warns that this is now “routinely breached” with an average handover taking 35 minutes per patient, and a 32 per cent rise in the amount of time ambulances spend at hospitals over the last decade.Lord Carter, who has previously been commissioned by ministers to make recommendations on improving hospital efficiency, said every patient who can be advised over the phone without needing an ambulance saves the service £190, as well as freeing up ambulances.The report shows that while North West Ambulance Service trust takes 64 per cent of patients to A&E after an ambulance dispatch, at South West Ambulance Service trust this fell to 52 per cent.The watchdog said the NHS should work to reduce the average rate of ambulance transfers to A&E from 58 per cent to 50 per cent to help reduce the strain on A&E services.Lord Carter, who has previously been commissioned by ministers to make recommendations on improving hospital efficiency, said every patient who can be advised over the phone without needing an ambulance saves the service £190, as well as freeing up ambulances. Not only is this financially costly, but it takes up staff’s time and means patients are having to spend time waiting in A&E when they should be recovering at homeLord Carter Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.