Diane Abbott ‘deeply worried’ by Sussex patient transport service problems

Diane Abbott Labour's shadow health secretary (photo supplied by the Labour Party). SUS-160916-141728001
Diane Abbott Labour's shadow health secretary (photo supplied by the Labour Party). SUS-160916-141728001

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott has called problems within Sussex’s patient transport service ‘deeply worrying’.

Coperforma took over the contract back in April and the company claimed on Tuesday the service is ‘now on the road to recovery after its disastrous start six months ago’.

But a day later staff working for Docklands Medical Services, one of Coperforma’s sub-contractors, turned up to work to find stations closed in St. Leonards, Worthing, and Bognor.

Reacting to the news Ms Abbott said: “This closure is deeply worrying and suggests the ambulance service should never have been outsourced to the private sector.

“We see this all through the NHS. The Government claims outsourcing is more efficient. But private companies have to make profits and if they don’t they simply withdraw, leaving a bad service behind them.

“Jeremy Hunt should end this inefficient and damaging false economy. Outsourcing is not the answer. It is actually part of the problem.”

The service was commissioned by the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG on behalf of the other CCGs across Sussex.

The GMB union, which has called for Coperforma to be stripped of the PTS contract, staged a protest in Brighton on Wednesday outside the surgery of one of the leading doctors in the city’s CCG.

It has organised further protests in Eastbourne and Brighton next week.

Gary Palmer, GMB regional organiser, said: “These protests will go on until collectively the combined Sussex CCG’s correct the devastating mistake of awarding the patient transport service to Coperforma.

“Not only has that error seen patients journey experiences plummet to an all-time low but has left GMB members who, despite not being paid, have carried on working and would have continued to work if Docklands Medical Services Ltd hadn’t closed its doors on the 14th September.

“GMB members have continued to deliver the best service possible without jobs for the second time in 11 weeks following the previous contractor VM Langford’s liquidation.”

He added: “The responsibility for this whole mess lies squarely at the door of the Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group members.

“It’s a responsibility the GMB now expects them to exercise in bringing this service back into the NHS family immediately, either with South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) or even into a Sussex based NHS Hospital Trust to administer on behalf of the whole of the county.”

A spokesman for Coperforma said: “We are urgently seeking clarification of overnight reports that Docklands Medical Services (DMS) has ceased operations and will issue further information as and when we receive it.

“In the meantime we can assure all patients that there will be no impact on the provision of the patient transport service across Sussex because one of the key benefits of the Coperforma managed service is that we can quickly switch capacity, as we have done in this case, to another provider.

“We had no prior knowledge from the management of DMS of this turn of events, particularly as all our contractual financial obligations to the company are fully up to date, we have received written assurance from them to that effect, and we were assured that all staff salaries were being paid.

“Since DMS agreed to take over from VM Langfords we have made payments to them totalling £479,256.

“Coperforma is a financially sound company, our contractors’ invoices are being paid on time and the Sussex patient transport service is operating well.”

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