Ambulance drivers who have been left without up to six weeks of pay following a private subcontractor going bust are to be paid after the NHS brokered a deal between a union and its main subcontrator – with a promise to pay them itself if this doesn’t happen by Monday.
The tendering out of patient transport service to private contractor Coperforma in the spring has been shambolic from the beginning, with two subcontractors, Langfords and Docklands, going bust in the past few weeks.
It has now emerged that Docklands, which has failed to pay some drivers since July, was given a lump sum intended for staff wages which was not passed on to its employees.
Now, following angry protests by the GMB union, the seven Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups which tendered the service out today announced a way has been found to pay the staff.
Wendy Carberry, Chief Officer of High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, said: “The seven Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups, responsible for putting in place NHS services, including the contract for non-emergency patient transport, today announced that a way has been found to pay staff at one of the transport sub-contractors, some of whom have not been paid since July.
“The Sussex CCGs have been working for several weeks, since we were made aware there was a problem, to ensure that Docklands staff get paid. We ensured that an advanced payment was made from Coperforma to Docklands Medical Services with the understanding that that some of that money be used by Docklands to pay staff. Unfortunately Docklands didn’t do this.
“It is completely unacceptable that staff should be in this position. The problem we have faced is that they are not employees of the CCGs, nor of Coperforma, and it has not been straightforward to find a way to get money to staff.
“We met yesterday (September 21) with Coperforma and GMB and Coperforma agreed to make the payment through GMB, which has hired a company to work out the payroll issues.
“The immediate priority is to pay those staff who have not been paid for August, and then next week to pay all Docklands staff for September.
“We expect Coperforma to make the first payment by Friday, but if for any reason that doesn’t happen the CCGs will step in and pay them on Monday 26 September from our own funds and get this back later through the contract payments.
“Once again, we’d like to apologise to staff who have kept the service going and continued to make themselves available for work in spite of the problems which are not of their making.”
One of the drivers, Tracey Cottrell, said: “It’s good that people are going to be paid but those people that are in need of the money with families and mortgages it’s very important that they got
“It’s taxpayers money which is paying for a problem which shouldn’t have occurred. If the NHS had put money into Secamb in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. You’ve probably got more people doing this than Secamb had in the first place, so it must be costing money.
“But we still don’t know if we’ve got jobs, or who we’re working for. The company hasn’t told us anything, which is terrible. Am I working, who for, do I get another job? My life is just on hold.
“Docklands could at least put out a letter an explain everything.”
Gary Palmer GMB Regional Organiser says: “Members are very pleased to hear the news that finally responsibility for this mess has been apportion to the right people and that they accept their need to put right a long standing embarrassment for PTS services and our members in Sussex.
“The agreement will see the Combine CCG’s accepting responsibility’s for money owing if Coperforma fail to deliver on their promises, a move both ourselves and the CCG’s agree is necessary considering staffs treatment and experiences to date. The CCG would then look to recover that money back from Coperforma who have through the failures to carry out effective due diligence testing on those they sub-contract to.
“The GMB have engaged a Pay roll company to help out after the collapse of Docklands, to in the first instance assure that staff who have failed to be paid last month are given their pay, then to make sure that this month’s pay due at the end of September is actual delivered on time and is correct.
“We then expect to have to carry out an extensive piece of work to try and unpick all monies still outstanding by Coperforma from the collapse of both VM Langfords and Docklands medical services, and that’s not a small task I can assure you.
“We will continue through to prepare for the worst case scenario and that means we will continue to work on the case to wind up all companies involved, as a plan B should this agreement collapse leaving our members still owed outstanding pay, something we hope will no longer be needed.
“Of course what happens now around our members getting back out on the road delivering services to the patients of Sussex is still to be clarified and arranged now that for all intents and purposes Docklands have gone, but the priority was that we resolved the pay issue first which will see money in Banks.
“Our thanks of course go to everyone who have worked so hard to get us to this point, they are too many to mention everyone, but Sussex MP’s and councillors and others certainly need a mention and we will be contacting them separately to pass on both our thanks and the thanks of our members, for the incredible support.”