By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
Putting ambulance services into the private sector has descended into a “total shambles,” it has been revealed.
An investigation by the NHS is going to be launched into a £63.5 million four year contract after patients have been left waiting for hours for their ambulance to arrive.
Patients suffering with cancer and kidney failure were among the hundreds who have missed appointments and treatments when their transport didn’t arrive or arrived far too late. Cancer patients have missed oncology appointments when they were not picked up at the right time.
It comes after NHS non-urgent transport services in Sussex were placed into private sector hands.
The essential transport is now ran by a private firm called Coperforma, leaving some elderly and frail patients waiting more than five hours for ambulances and then being stuck in hospital for huge periods because of the unreliable service.
Patients, relatives, NHS bodies and local MPs have severely criticised the service’s performance, and a trade union representing ambulance crews said it was an “absolute shambles”.
Coperforma replaced the NHS’s south East Coast ambulance service on 1st April, an apt day for it perhaps
The number of patients stuck at the Royal Sussex County hospital in Brighton became some large that taxis were called to take them home.
Staff there have had to stay until midnight to ensure kidney patients arriving hours after their scheduled start time have received vital dialysis.
Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups, which handed Coperforma the contract, said: “We recognise that the first few days of the new non-emergency Sussex patient transport service provided by Coperforma were not acceptable and apologise to all patients who were affected by this.
“A combination of initial technical hitches and problems with some of the patient data and journey information transferred from the previous service have created delays. These triggered a significant volume of calls to the call centres, which in turn created further issues; including some patients spending a regrettably long time waiting for transport.”
Gary Palmer, from the GMB trade union, which represents many of the Coperforma personnel involved, said: “Regularly patients are missing their appointments at hospital because they are just not being collected or are so late in being collected that they miss them. We know that hundreds and hundreds of patients have been affected. But given that Coperforma are carrying out 300,000 journeys a year, or about 1,000 every weekday, it could easily be 2,000 or 3,000. It’s been and still is an absolute shambles – chaos.”
The company said: “Coperforma apologises unreservedly to all patients who have and are still experiencing delays in patient transport services. We investigate all out-of-line situations and report back to any patients or NHS staff affected.