Sussex MPs write to doctors criticising Coperforma patient transport service

The majority of Sussex MPs have written to doctors expressing concerns at the performance of the county's patient transport service.

Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, pictured last year, helped organised a letter from MPs criticising the recent performance of the patient transport service
Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, pictured last year, helped organised a letter from MPs criticising the recent performance of the patient transport service

The PTS was taken over by Coperforma at the start of April from South East Coast Ambulance Service, but since then patients have been affected by numerous incidents of crews either not turning up or showing up late.

All but two of the county’s Tory MPs signed a letter last week to the High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is the lead commissioner for the service, expressing concern at the ‘distress’ felt by a number of their constituents who have missed appointments or surgeries.

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Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, who organised the letter with fellow MPs, said: “I am pleased that the CCG have immediately set out answers to each of the questions posed and are coming to see the Sussex group of MPs in Parliament next week to discuss how improvement will be delivered.

“I will be able to inform the CCG that the appalling delays are still occurring, having visited Bexhill hospital in the last few days and being told of the impact on patients and hospital staff alike.”

The letter ends: “We are strongly supportive of our CCGs and our local NHS providers.

“The performance of Coperforma is causing a detrimental effect to our constituents and we seek your urgent reassurance that this matter will be remedied.

“We note your statement that you will be unable to comment prior to the publication of an independent report but expect you to address the contents of this letter beforehand.

“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter in a meeting at your earliest opportunity.

“It may be helpful for you to bring Coperforma to this meeting albeit we are looking for you, as the commissioning party, to take responsibility for this matter and the lead in any meeting.”

A spokesperson for the seven Sussex CCGs said: “We have received a letter from Huw Merriman MP and Amber Rudd MP about the Patient Transport Service which we have replied to answering the points they raised.

“They also requested a meeting which has been arranged for 8 June.”

Michael Clayton, chief executive officer of Coperforma, apologised for the level of service it provided in the first week of the contract, which he called ‘unacceptable’.

According to a report that was discussed at a governing body meeting of the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG last Wednesday (May 25) the standard of the service ‘has not been acceptable and both Coperforma and the Sussex CCGs have issued a public apology to all affected patients’.

It highlights ‘difficulties’ with the booking function, with patients and NHS staff not being able to access the phone lines, and demand exceeding capacity at times.

A programme board is overseeing the service’s performance, while the CCG and Coperforma have jointly developed a remedial action plan, which is being reviewed at weekly.

Meanwhile an independent review into the transition and mobilisation of the PTS contract from SECAmb to Coperforma is due to be published in mid-June.

Amber Rudd, Hastings and Rye MP, said: “This is an issue of great concern to me having been contacted by several of my constituents who have been let down by the patient transport service.

“Each email and letter recounts delayed or cancelled Coperforma services leading to missed appointments and severe disruption.

“Local people in need of the patient transport service for vital healthcare should not have to suffer delayed journeys or services which don’t turn up at all.

“I am pleased the CCG has responded so promptly and constructively to the letter sent by fellow local MPs and I, and I look forward to further discussion of this issue at the forthcoming meeting in Parliament.”

Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell added: “I signed the letter because serious concerns remain over the performance of Coperforma.

“In April, I met the company’s chief executive and I was told Coperforma was looking forward to providing ‘responsive and reliable service’ and I was given assurances that a team had been brought in to resolve issues around transition.

“However, through May my office was still supporting patients who have been let down - vulnerable patients who rely on this transport service to attend appointments for chemotherapy, physiotherapy and dialysis and patients who do not need the stress of their transport not arriving.

“In fairness, calls to my office have decreased, but they are still being taken from unhappy and very ill people who feel let down, and that is simply not good enough.

“These are shared concern across Sussex so I am one of a number of MPs who have written to the CCG, who commission the service, to ask it what they will do to improve the situation.”

Wealden MP Nus Ghani added: “The poor performance of Coperforma in providing patient transport has been a cause of great stress and frustration for a number of my constituents, many of whom have been in touch with me about it.

“It also leads to a waste of valuable NHS resources as a result of missed or delayed appointments and procedures. I am keen to know why this has come about, and what is being done to improve the situation as rapidly as possible.”

Crawley MP Henry Smith added: “MPs across Sussex, including myself, believe the patient transport service levels offered by Coperforma to our constituents still unacceptable.

“I have raised my concerns in the House of Commons and to the Department of Health at how some chronically sick and elderly patients have been neglected locally.

“The situation has to significantly change for the better and with colleagues I will continue to pursue the matter.”

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield explained she had signed the letter ‘due to the sad incidents of being constantly let down by Coperforma with no real reasons given to my constituents’.

She added: “I had already asked the CQC and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to review the failings of Coperforma and brought this to their attention to reinforce that these failings of poor patient transport is causing stress on many people who are in need of medical treatment and rely on Coperforma getting them to these important medical appointments in good time.”

“I also signed this letter with colleagues after I had been in contact with the CCG and the Secretary of State to highlight the extent of the problem, but also while there was a slight improvement with the situation it is still not good enough for patients in Lewes constituency.”

The letter was also signed by:

-Sir Peter Bottomley, Worthing West MP

-Sir Nicholas Soames, Mid Sussex MP

-Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP

-Simon Kirby, Brighton Kemptown MP

-Tim Loughton, East Worthing and Shoreham MP

-Jeremy Quin, Horsham MP

The contract is for four years, with the option of a one-year extension, with a total value of £63m.

Coperforma has been approached for comment.

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