Last week doctors announced that they would be handing back the contract to an NHS trust, just seven months since private company Coperforma took over the service at the start of April.
In the first few weeks patients complained of crews either showing up late or not turning up at all, and while performance has improved several sub-contractors working on the contract have collapsed.
Michael Clayton, chief executive officer at Coperforma, described the decision by doctors as a ‘friendly divorce’ and countered any suggestion they had been ‘stripped’ of the contract.
He said: “Criticism started on the day in January this year when the commissioners announced the award of the contract to Coperforma; inevitably and correctly, it increased when the launch of the service ran into trouble. Wrong decisions were made for which I take responsibility and we badly let down many patients.
“However, even when the problems were quickly identified and rectified and the service began performing better than it had ever done under the previous provider, the negative and malicious, largely politically inspired publicity continued relentlessly, against the company, our staff and contractors and the commissioners in the print, on radio and television and social media. Politicians joined and the situation was raised in Parliament.
“It became clear that we were facing an unwinnable battle and there came a point during October when the board feared the service would break down completely threatening the safety and well-being of patients and we concluded that the right and only course of action was to raise with the commissioners the notion of stepping back from the contract.
“The commissioners had come to a similar conclusion and contrary to media reports, we have not been ‘stripped’ of the contract but what is best described as a ‘friendly divorce’ was agreed, importantly with ‘no fault’ attached to either Coperforma or the commissioners.”
Mr Clayton said that the detailed terms of the contract transition to South Central Ambulance Service, including the timing, are still to be finalised and a Coperforma team will be meeting with the commissioners and SCAS representatives shortly. The company will also be seeking to arrange a meeting involving the contractors, commissioners and SCAS to discuss resourcing requirements going forward.
He continued: “Our immediate priority is to collaborate with the commissioners and SCAS to ensure a smooth transition of the service in the very best interests of patients.”
“Finally I want to publicly thank our employees and contractors who have worked tirelessly, often under the most pressing circumstances, to maintain and continually improve the performance of the service; equally I want to acknowledge the support and encouragement of the commissioners who gave us the opportunity in the first instance to deliver an improved patient transport service in Sussex.
“The service has delivered a much better experience for many patients across Sussex and I would like to thank also the Hospital staff and our Transport Partners who have worked tirelessly to make that a possibility.”
But a spokesman for the GMB union said: “A retreat even though uncomfortable can be done in a dignified and professional way, but Coperforma will leave the Sussex PTS contract as they arrived to it, in disarray, discord, and clueless as to what they are doing and what they have done wrong.”
This week the GMB also warned that staff at Thames Ambulance Service, a sub-contractor working for Coperforma on the Sussex PTS, are at risk of redundancy.
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