The Greens are insisting that ‘lessons be learnt’ following news that private company Coperforma are to step down from their contract to provide patient transport in Sussex.
Both Councillors and MPs alike are seeking detailed answers from the High Weald and Haven CCG as to how a company with little track record were selected and permitted to run the patient transport service. The Clinical Commissioning Group, who oversaw the decision to award the £60 million plus contract to the company, have now announced that patient transport will again be managed by an NHS Trust Provider, South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS).
The news follows a catalogue of failings made by the Coperforma, with patients reporting unacceptable customer service including incidences of missed operations, long waiting times to be taken home from hospital, and drivers not showing up for critical appointments such as dialysis or cancer treatment. Despite assurances from the company that improvements were in place, problems continued and reports emerged of staff not being paid, local offices closing down, and news that during certain periods the company operated fleets without a valid licence.
Greens are concerned that ‘outsourcing’ measures are leading CCGs to inappropriately award NHS service contracts to companies that are unfit for purpose. Locally, Green councillors called upon the Health and Wellbeing Board to demand that the contract be stripped from Coperforma, and nationally, MP Caroline Lucas has sought answers and oversight from government officials and the CCG. They are also seeking assurances that the CCG is able to effectively manage the period of transfer to the new provider, who will not completely run the service until transition is complete in April 2017.
Councillor Dick Page, Green spokesperson for the Health and Wellbeing Board, commented:
“Though the news that an NHS trust service will now take over patient transport again can only be welcomed, we must address the real problem, which is around how these contracts are awarded and delivered to begin with. I will pursue answers as to how much extra public money has been spent on dealing with the failings, such as emergency transport costs and unpaid staff wages. We have also since learned that the report into the failings may have cost around £40k. After more than 6 months of chaos, we know that the ‘assurances’ the CCGs were naively prepared to accept from the company were clearly false. I want to see proper supervision and control of the contract by the CCGs which so far has been sadly lacking.
It is shocking that in a recent statement, despite reports, Coperforma have still claimed they provided a safe and reliable service.  We have raised the alarm that our NHS is being dismantled piece by piece and in this case, a piece was given to a company that was entirely unable to run the service and caused misery to many patients, families and carers. The Coperforma mess sends a real warning about the consequences of handing public services to private companies. Serious lessons must be learned. We must demand real scrutiny and true transparency over the commissioning of our public services, to ensure that this kind of unacceptable practice is not repeated.”