The GMB union is to make hardship payments to members working for the non-emergency ambulance service who are owed thousands of pounds by their employers.
The first payments will be made after a demo outside a Brighton GPs’ surgery as the GMB holds protests where the decision-makers practice as doctors.
The demo is planned for tomorrow morning (Wednesday 14 September).
Some ambulance staff are struggling to pay household bills, including their rent, with back pay owing from the collapse of one employer VM Langfords – and no August pay packet received.
VM Langfords collapsed with debts of more than £444,000, according to a statement of affairs filed with Companies House. More than £100,000 was owed to the taxman.
Staff are keeping the Sussex Patient Transport Service running on goodwill, according to the union, which plans to apply for a winding up order against two of the four businesses involved.
As well as being owed pay, some are paying for petrol or diesel for their ambulances and covering the cost of mobile phone bills on which the service relies.
The GMB said: “The outsourced contractors for the Patient Transport Service in Sussex are Coperforma and the sub-contractor Docklands Medical Services.
“The GMB will be seeking winding up orders for the unpaid wages of GMB members.”
The union said that members “are to protest outside the surgeries of doctors on the Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) after wages have not been paid on the patient transport services they outsourced last April.
“The first protest will be held on Wednesday 14 September from 11.30am outside the surgery of the chair of the Brighton and Hove CCG Dr Xavier Nalletamby – St Peter’s Medical Centre, in Oxford Street, Brighton.
“This will be followed by a presentation of the hardship payments to GMB members at the TUC conference at the Brighton Centre.”
GMB regional secretary Paul Maloney said: “The doctors who made the decision to outsource the service have to accept responsibility for the failure of the contract to pay the wages of the staff and keep the ambulances in fuel.
“The GMB will protest outside each of the surgeries of the doctors who made the decision that has led to these NHS staff not being paid.
“The GMB will also seek winding up orders in court against all of the companies involved. In the meantime the GMB will provide hardship payments to the members to enable them to buy food for their families.”
A group of Sussex MPs has raised financial and operational concerns about the private contractors with the Department of Health – and locally a leading Labour councillor has raised concerns with the CCGs.
Members of the Brighton and Hove City Council Health and Wellbeing Board have been briefed on the issue.
After the briefing one board member said that Councillor Daniel Yates, who chairs the board, had written to the CCG to flag up financial shortfalls and outstanding debts.
Councillor Yates asked health chiefs at the Brighton and Hove CCG about their contingency plans should another sub-contractor – or even the main contractor Coperforma – go bust.
And he urged health chiefs to redesign the service along more sustainable lines and to learn lessons from what has been a “total shambles”.
The Patient Transport Service was run by the South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) until April when Coperforma took over.
Secamb declined to run the service after Sussex CCGs, led by High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, redesigned the way that it wanted it to run.
Its reservations appear to have been justified by the struggle that Coperforma has had to provide a proper functioning service, with kidney patients missing or being late for vital dialysis appointments.
The non-emergency ambulances are also used to take cancer patients to and from hospital, including for chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.
One staff member said: “I love my job but the way they are trying to run the service is not right for us or for the patients.
“The bosses don’t listen. The money problems don’t help. I just wish someone would sort it all out but at the moment it’s hard to see that happening.”
The situation is expected to be discussed at the Health and Wellbeing Board next Tuesday (20 September).
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