YORKSHIRE Ambulance bosses will go head-to-head with another ambulance organisation for the right to run York's patient transport service (PTS).

The service is currently run by Yorkshire Ambulance and is responsible for ferrying thousands of non-emergency patients to and from York Hospital's doors every year.

But the possibility of privatisation has hung over the service since last year when the hospital - along with others across the country - decided to put it up for tender.

That meant any company could have a chance of bidding to run patient transport, and 14 organisations expressed an interest in taking it on.

Ambulance union leaders strongly objected to the move, saying patient care could be put at risk if the service was taken over by a private company.

Now the hospital has drawn up a shortlist of three bidders, who will go head-to-head this month for the chance to win the patient transport contract.

The Press has learned that the Yorkshire Ambulance Service is one of the three organisations to have made it to the shortlist.

The other two shortlisted bidders are a private company and an ambulance service from another part of the country.

Hospital nursing director Mike Proctor said: "We're delighted that we've got three really good tenders. The final part of the tendering process is interviews with each of the bidders."

Sue Cooper, business development director for Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: "Yorkshire Ambulance Service is pleased to note that they have been short- listed and welcomes the opportunity to tender for the future provision of patient transport services."

Glen Gears, York ambulance branch secretary of the public services union Unison, said: "We are pleased to have been shortlisted as one of the three final tenders.

"However, until the final decision is taken as to who the provider will be, we will continue to press the case for York Hospital to keep the patient transport service contract with Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

"We believe that the high levels of dedication and training of our PTS staff and the massive support that we have received from the public makes Yorkshire Ambulance Service the natural choice to continue to provide the patient transport contract."

Unison leaders have voiced a series of concerns about a potentially privatised PTS service.

One was that the ambulance service would not be able to respond as effectively to major incidents like bus crashes where it was currently able to deploy its own PTS vehicles to help transport the walking wounded.

But York Hospital chief executive Jim Easton told a public meeting last year that the service was not being run efficiently, with passengers being missed.

Three thousand people signed a petition in Parliament Street, York, last month, calling for patient transport to be kept in the public sector.

A final decision is expected within weeks.