Ambulance crew working for a subcontractor of the privatised NHS patient transport service have been sent home as a union raises concerns over Coperforma’s worrying performance.
Thames Ambulance is the third subcontractor to run into financial difficulties after agreeing to carry out work for Coperforma, which took over the service from South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) in the spring, with one having gone bust and another failing to pay staff.
The GMB union, which many affected ambulance workers are a member of, is now calling for the Clinical Commissioning Group, which outsourced the service after Secamb said it could not provide it for the money offered, to place it into the hands of an NHS provider.
Gary Palmer GMB Organiser said eight Thames crew had been sent home today. He said: “It appears that ruining both Langford’s and Docklands wasn’t enough for Coperforma CEO Michael Clayton as Thames Ambulance now appear to have incurred the wrath of the Coperforma team, as we start to see the familiar pattern of undermining the contractors through disputing and delaying the payment of invoices.
“Work is purposefully removed and dissipated amongst others within the contract when any organisation questions the failures to pay invoices for work ambulance units and crews provided. This has a knock on effect in causing hardworking frontline staff to panic and begin to fear for their jobs.
“Having spoken with Thames, they assure me that there is no immediate threat or risk to staff pay, but with the removal of units from front line Sussex service it’s clear that it could leave Thames with a number of over staffing issues at their Sheffield Business Park base.
“GMB members are already reporting that when they log on with Coperforma to work they are immediately being stood down and asked to return to base to wait for work or sent home.
“The problem is that any sustained period of de-mobilisation and instability as a result of Coperforma’s shoddy practice of shifting provision amongst its 22 current providers for those that complain will mean that maintaining current levels of employment becomes impossible and job cuts might prove inevitable.
“I really do feel and worry for GMB Thames Ambulance members, knowing what I do from the Langford’s and Docklands experiences over the last few month. This has all the signs of a further impending disaster for those involved, and must surely be the last straw for the CCG on the Coperforma transfer fiasco.
“They must act now and remove them from this contract and place it in the hands of an NHS provider for the sake of Sussex patients and staff alike.”
The GMB says it’s been told that Thames Ambulance Service is currently owed £600,000 by Coperforma. Thames Ambulance has been contacted for comment.
A spokesman for Coperforma Ltd said: “As we have already stated we are querying invoice discrepancies with a small number of contractors and Thames Ambulance Service is one of them. These discussions have been taking place for several months and are still ongoing.
“We have not sought to impose any controls on their operation but as they have not been fulfilling their contractual capacity we agreed to reduce the level to the volume they proposed. This arrangement has been working satisfactorily since September.
“We have no knowledge of employees of Thames Ambulance being sent home.
“Payment is up to date for service Thames Ambulance have supplied and we wish to resolve the queried invoices as quickly as possible.
“The Sussex patient transport service continues to operate well.”
Last week the NHS stepped in to pay ambulance workers left out of pocket by the failure of another contractor, Docklands, which had left workers unpaid for up to six weeks.
Mr Palmer said most staff are now paid or part paid for the last two months, and the union was working through others that have recently come to light. The NHS, working via GMB, has already paid out in excess of £125,000.