A vital ambulance service is at risk of collapse, according to some of the companies working with troubled contractor Coperforma.
Four companies say that they are owed more than £1.2 million in a complaint to the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) responsible for the service.
And they claim that the way the Patient Transport Service is being run is troubled and inefficient, with a top-heavy management.
Brighton and Hove CCG is one of the seven clinical commissioning groups responsible for the Sussex Patient Transport Service (PTS) and to have been notified of the “critical” issues.
The complaint was sent to the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, which has taken the lead role in handling the controversial PTS contract to provide non-emergency ambulances.
It was sent by Chris Arnall, of Docklands Medical Services, Andrew Tuke, of the Thames Ambulance Group, Alan Willis, of Road Runners and PTS-247, and David Robins, of UK Ambulance Sales.
They said that the huge sums owed by the main PTS contractor Coperforma was threatening their own businesses and as a result putting the service as a whole at risk.
Coperforma took over the contract in April after the CCGs made changes that led to the previous provider – South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) – ending its involvement.
Secamb, which is part of the NHS, recently told members of the Brighton and Hove City Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee that it had given warnings about the changes. And those warnings were now being borne out, Secamb, said.
Ambulance crew were due to strike yesterday (Monday 6 September) over back pay owed from the collapse of Coperforma’s initial partner VM Langford. They called off the strike at the eleventh hour when Coperforma agreed to talks – due to be held today (Tuesday 7 September) – with the GMB union.
High Weald Lewes Havens CCG chief officer Wendy Carberry said: “Ensuring a good service to local patients is our priority. Sussex CCGs have recently been made aware of the concerns of some Coperforma contractors. We are looking into this to establish the facts and any actions that need to be taken.”
What the complaint said …
The four companies said: “I am emailing you on behalf of Road Runners, Thames Ambulance, Docklands and a number of other suppliers all of whom have contacted us with regards to the serious situation that we are all now being forced into by Coperforma.
“We have highlighted on a number of occasions to the lead CCG our concerns but feel that the situation has escalated to such an extent that action needs to be taken now to secure the PTS service in Sussex and safeguard the patients of Sussex.
“We have all tried without success to work with Coperforma to build a good working relationship and assist them where possible in delivering the service to the highest possible standard.
“We have gone above and beyond to try and ensure that patients receive the service they require and that it is of the highest standard.
“Unfortunately even though we collectively have a tremendous experience and knowledge of the sector Coperforma have refused any assistance or advice from any of us.
“As such we are unable to operate effectively due to the inadequate system that Coperforma are using (vehicle apps not working, one journey at a time being allocated to a vehicle when that vehicle can take multiple passengers, vehicles being moved across county driving hundreds of miles to move one or two patients) the list can go on.
“This is compounded by the inexperienced staff that are being brought in to replace the previous experienced staff from both Secamb and the PTB and a highly paid top heavy management structure that does not bear any relation to the service that is being provided.
“The situation has reached critical levels now. In addition to the operational issues raised, we have also highlighted concerns around the financial stability of Coperforma which has now come to a head.
“Due to the way Coperforma operate and the compounded effects of an inadequate operating system, inexperienced staff and a top heavy management structure, they are now struggling financially.
“To deal with this Coperforma are now deliberately withholding and refusing to pay invoices to all providers in an attempt to maintain cash flow.
“This is a totally unacceptable situation for all parties concerned and one that cannot and will not be tolerated or sustained. Between the three main providers we are owed over £1.2 million pounds, we are aware of several other companies owed over £100k each and from talking with some of the smaller providers they are all experiencing similar problems.
“As you can appreciate the sums involved are significant and crippling our service and the service that we can deliver.
“The situation is untenable and has reached a point that CCGs have to act now before the PTS service collapses.
“We are all dedicated providers of PTS services with the highest level of integrity and devotion to providing a quality caring service to patients. What Coperforma are doing is in total contrast to this.
“We are now in a position where by we need this situation resolved. We are not trying to put undue pressure on CCGs or anyone else but if all outstanding invoices are not paid in full by Coperforma within 10 days of this email we will have no option other than to start legal proceedings against Coperforma with an immediate reduction in the provision of services as we will no longer be in a position to pay staff, maintain vehicles, etc.
“If all outstanding invoices are not then paid, we will have no option other than to cease providing all services.
“We are disgusted at the position Coperforma have put us all in and the devastating effect this will have on patients but we see no resolution to the situation without CCG intervention.
“Please be assured that we are all providers dedicated to providing the highest quality service to patients and that this email is aimed at trying to ensure that this can be delivered.”
Campaigners respond …
Two local campaign groups, Sussex Defend the NHS and Coastal West Sussex 38 degrees NHS group, issued a joint statement this morning, urging the High Weald Lewes Havens accountable officer Wendy Carberry to resign.
They said: “Yet another privatisation ends in chaos. The whole idea of running a health service as a market is proving time and again dangerous for patients, terrible for staff and hopeless in terms of organisation.
“This government are cynical in their destruction of our NHS as a public service which was the most efficient and cost-effective in the world.
“The commissioners in Sussex responsible should be called to account as being completely incompetent in the way they award contracts.
“This is more public money wasted in the pockets of a private company who clearly hadn’t a clue about running our Patient Transport Service.
“Wendy Carberry, go now before you do any more damage.”