A city council committee meeting was suspended this evening after union members angry at the ongoing problems with privatised patient transport service occupied the town hall.
Those in the packed public seating were asked to leave meeting at Hove Town Hall but refused. The stand-off lasted for nearly an hour before protesters left and the meeting resumed.
The protest was over serious issues with the Coperforma contract. These have included patients delayed for and missing vital appointments, drivers losing their jobs and being owed several weeks’ worth of pay after two subcontractors went bust. And six control room staff who joined Coperforma from the NHS have been suspended.
However, the agenda of the meeting of the Brighton and Hove City Council Health and Wellbeing Board did not include this issue today (Tuesday 20 September).
The meeting was told that up to 20 staff had not been paid for six weeks – and the row erupted when one of them asked to address the meeting but was refused.
Health and Wellbeing Board chairman Councillor Dan Yates said that it was a board meeting held in public not a public meeting and the first hour had been given over to hearing questions and receiving a petition from the public. Some of the discussion had already been about the patient transport service.
Councillor Yates spoke to some of the ambulance staff during the interruption to hear their concerns and explain what the board was doing.
Earlier he told the meeting: “There have been a succession of headlines and stories about the patient transport service … The story around the patient transport service is very bad at the moment.
“I have contacted High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group about some of the more serious issues.”
Labour councillors had pledged their support for the union at a group meeting yesterday evening.
— Daniel Yates (@danieljyates) September 19, 2016
Earlier this afternoon, committee member Councillor Caroline Penn told the Health and Wellbeing Board: “There is a lot of anger at this situation from patients, their families and staff, and rightly so.
“For staff to go without wages for up to six weeks, to pay for petrol out of their own pocket and for the GMB to have to set up a hardship fund for staff – this is completely unacceptable.
“It has been a deeply flawed procurement process, for which High Weald Lewes Havens CCG and Coperforma must take responsibility.
“There is an urgent need to ensure staff to be treated fairly and for patients to have the guarantee that a fully functioning service is maintained.”
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.
The first Coperforma subcontractor 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.
Work was transferred to another, Docklands, but this also went bust last week, blaming Coperforma which it previously said owed it a six-figure sum and more than £1.2 million in total to its subcontractors.
A hardship fund has been set up by the GMB to raise money for affected drivers and local councillors have donated to this – click here to contribute.