Coperforma’s patient transport service has been branded a ‘sham’ by a district councillor who said she has had ‘nothing but lies’ from the company.
Since the private company took over the contract from South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) back in April patients have complained about numerous incidents of crews either not turning up or showing up late.
It was revealed that VM Langfords, a sub-contractor for Coperforma that has gone into receivership and had several patient transport ambulances repossessed by bailiffs, had been subject to an ‘aggressive takeover’ which was suggested to be an ‘asset stripping exercise’ during Thursday’s East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) meeting.
Bosses from both Coperforma and High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who were the lead commissioners for the contract, apologised for the performance of the PTS since April and explained what steps were being taken to make improvements.
Jo Bentley, Wealden district councillor for Hailsham South and West, said: “This service you have provided through Coperforma, it’s not a service it’s a sham.
“It’s a shambles and we would like you to sort it out.”
As a user of the service herself, she explained how she relied on the PTS for appointments at University College Hospital in London, and having booked to be taken there for surgery, she had received the call confirming on the day 2.5 hours late, was then picked up in a taxi, and after feeling ill on the journey was told to get out of the car if she was going to be sick.
She added: “I have had nothing but lies from Coperforma saying transport is on the way.”
She asked why although there were 23 potential bids, Coperforma were the only company to actually submit one.
Michael Clayton, chief executive officer at Coperforma, replied: “If you have not had an apology I apologise now. These things you have endured are clearly poor.”
County councillor Alan Shuttleworth said: “What we have got before us is a major failure, a failure that’s impacted on many vulnerable people across the region.”
It was revealed that Coperforma had 230 full time employed staff working on the contract, and 56 volunteer staff.
Mr Clayton said that with the limited data they had been provided before April, Coperforma had not anticipated the high level of peak demand times, but had put on an additional 29 shifts in May, with another extra 84 shifts to come on stream in late July or early August.
Sally Smith, director of delivery at the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, said: “We apologise unreservedly to all the patients and public for this unacceptable level of performance.”
She added: “Absolutely the service is still not performing in the way we want it to, but in terms of tracking the improvement through the remedial action plan timeframe we are not there yet, but we are now on track.”
But Hastings borough councillor Mike Turner said: “The responsibility of this is down to the CCG, that’s the bottom line. It’s a complete and utter failure to properly scrutinise this service that they are commissioning, let’s make no bones about this.”
He thought that ‘alarm bells should have been ringing’ when SECAmb decided not to continue to provide the service.
Julie Eason from SpeakUp, a countywide forum for the voluntary and community sector, similarly argued that this raised ‘massive red flags’.
But Geraint Davies, acting chief executive at SECAmb, explained that the specification in the new contract precluded them from continuing the service as they were a service provider, not a management service provider.
Previously the booking for the patient transport service had been done through a bureau run by the old Primary Care Trust, which was then taken over by the CCGs when these were abolished.
Both the booking and the transport itself is now managed under one contract provided by Coperforma.
Alan Beasley, chief finance officer at High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, added: “Moving it to an IT driven system we should see an improvement in governance, an improvement in effective scheduling, and an improvement in the efficiency of the service overall.”
County councillor Tania Charman was ‘quite shocked by what she had heard today’, raising the VM Langfords situation, and the fact that some staff were either not turning up, or did not have uniforms.
She said: “It sounds like a disaster. How could this not be high risk?”
Mr Clayton said after the VM Langfords takeover, an audit had raised some things they were ‘not comfortable with’, and when questions for more information were not immediately answered, Coperforma decided to bring in other providers to pick up the work.
He explained they had 18 total sub-contractors which provided them with flexibility and resiliency.
He added: “The aggressive takeover of VM Langfords is a warning shot not just for us but every provider in the market.
“The way it was done was not good. The organisation’s founders and shareholders thought it was a good idea to cash in.”
Cllr Charman suggested the takeover was an ‘asset stripping exercise’.
Mr Clayton explained that although not named there was a ‘person of concern’ involved in the takeover.
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