Coperforma suspends six staff working in Sussex patient transport service

Coperforma has suspended six staff working on its Sussex patient transport service contract.

Patient transport service vehicles used by SECAmb before the contract was taken over by Coperforma
Patient transport service vehicles used by SECAmb before the contract was taken over by Coperforma

Since the company took over the service from South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) back in April there have been numerous complaints from patients of crews either turning up late or not showing up at all.

High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the lead commissioner for the service, engaged TIAA to look into the transition and mobilisation of the new contract, and its report was released today (Monday August 6).

It found that the initial two principle reasons given for poor performance by Coperforma, a high volume of calls and errors in the handling of live data, should have been addressed in days rather than weeks, and a combination of other factors contributed to failures in service delivery.

The report argued that issues ‘were identified very quickly’ by both Coperforma and the CCG, but also noted a lack of a proper ‘Plan B’, failure to consider a phased implementation, and a reliance by the CCG on written and verbal assurances from Coperforma on its readiness prior to April 1.

It highlights potential issues with drivers being able to access transport bookings through mobile devices, and the inability of the separate NHS trusts to make online bookings in the first few weeks of the contract to reduce the number of calls to the booking department.

The report also suggests that the CCG should have considered engaging a patient transport expert to oversee the mobilisation process, and raised the fact that prior to this contract Coperforma’s experience of delivering patient transport was ‘through a number of significantly smaller value contracts’.

Meanwhile six members of Coperforma’s booking staff have been suspended while the CCG carries out an investigation into allegations of potential irregularities and omissions in the booking and dispatch of patient transport.

At the end of July passenger satisfaction was up to 88 per cent, while 94 per cent of patients are arriving on time to appointments.

Michael Clayton, chief executive officer at Coperforma, said: “We welcome the fair and balanced tone of the report and accept fully the shortcomings it identifies in our plans and procedures in the run-up to the launch of the service on 1 st April 2016 which resulted in an unacceptable experience for many patients .

“We also appreciate the report’s recognition that we were introducing a new method of delivery for patient transport service with much higher performance standards on journey times based on service users feedback to the CCGs during consultation in 2015.

“This delivery method required accurate and timely historic patient journey data which was not made fully available to us before launch date.

“Since the launch we have worked quickly and tirelessly to identify and work on rectifying the problems and I am pleased to report that our efforts have resulted in significant measurable improvements.

“We are now achieving 90 per cent plus of the targets agreed with the commissioners at the outset of the contract.

“We want to get it right for every patient every time and we continue to work with the Sussex CCGs to monitor our progress and thank them for their continued and most helpful support.

“The report’s ten-point recommendations are practical and logical and we have already decided to put those which apply to Coperforma into effect; equally we support the recommendation that an independent patient transport service specialist should be appointed to support the CCGs.

“Due to further investigation into allegations of serious irregularities uncovered separately from the investigation by TIAA and which potentially also impacted on our initial service, I am unable to comment further on this and the suspension of members of staff, all of whom transferred over on 1 April at the start of the contract.

“I can confirm that we have increased staffing levels to ensure that the service and our performance are not adversely affected by these suspensions.”

Wendy Carberry, accountable officer for the CCG, added: “On behalf of Sussex CCGs I would like to apologise again to patients and to trusts for the problems with the patient transport.

“We are working very hard with Coperforma to address these issues and the vast majority of patients are now getting to and from their appointments on time.

“However, we know there are still problems in parts of Sussex. Coperforma are meeting weekly improvement targets and we will keep working with them until every patient in Sussex has a consistent and reliable service.

“I would like to thank TIAA for their thorough report. We will look at the report’s conclusions in detail to learn any lessons that could inform future procurement. As they point out, this was not simply a straightforward change of provider, but a new way of delivering the service, based on what service users and other stakeholders told us they wanted.

“We cannot comment on the allegations that have led to staff suspensions while the investigation is ongoing. Coperforma has recruited additional staff and is also using its Hampshire staff to ensure that the suspension does not impact on patients’ experience of the service.

“We are continuing to work with Coperforma to further improve the patient transport service and we have ensured that additional help and support is in place for any patients or health professionals who have problems with the service.”

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1) Make our website your homepage

2) Like our Facebook page

3) Follow us on Twitter

4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

Always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.