Sussex private transport provider in dispute with union

The Patient Transport Service (PTS), previously run by SECAmb (pictured), was taken over by private firm Coperforma in April
The Patient Transport Service (PTS), previously run by SECAmb (pictured), was taken over by private firm Coperforma in April

Private company Coperforma and workers union the GMB have said they will no longer negotiate after a row over a new patient transport service.

The GMB has said it will no longer take part in negotiations with Coperforma, which took over a four-year contract to provide patient transport services from April 1, 2016.

GMB members transferred to Coperforma from their old employer, South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb). But the union has criticised the new provider over its ‘lack of planning, engagement and openness with the staff’.

Since Coperforma took over from SECAmb, hundreds of patients have faced long delays and cancelled operations after patient transport turned up late and even failed to arrive. Patients needing regular dialysis and blood transfusions have also been affected by the delays.

Hospitals across Sussex have been forced to pick up the bill for taxis to make sure patients get home after treatment and overtime for staff.

Gary Palmer, GMB Organiser, said: “Since the transfer we have found ourselves supporting members through anger and frustration brought about by Coperforma’s failing new smartphone app and deployment system, which has left patients uncollected and staff undeployed on numerous occasions.

“As a result of this support, Coperforma has chosen to retaliate by de-recognising GMB and in doing so is hopeful of preventing our members from exercising their right to be part of a trade union of their choice.”

A spokeswoman for Coperforma said: “The GMB stated in a public forum and in a subsequent direct communication that they would not take part in any discussion with Coperforma.”

Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups, which awarded Coperforma the £63m contract, has confirmed it will be investigating the ‘run up and start of the new service’.

A West Sussex County Council spokeswoman said: “We are aware some concerns have been raised in the media about the new patient transport service.

“The chairman of West Sussex Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee (HASC) has asked for an update following these reports about the transition from the old provider, South East Coast Ambulance Service, to the new one, Coperforma.

“Following that update, a decision will be made about whether formal scrutiny is required at a future meeting of the committee.”

A spokesman for Coperforma said: “Coperforma apologises unreservedly to all patients and NHS staff who are experiencing or have experienced delays or missed appointments due to the challenges at the introduction of the new non-emergency patient transport service for Sussex.”

The company also criticised SECAmb for the way it dealt with the handover.

A statement by Coperforma said: “The previous incumbent asked all patients -including regular dialysis patients as well as those with outpatient appointments - to contact us on April 1, to reconfirm their bookings or else they may not happen.

“This advice was entirely false and put unprecedented demand on our telephone lines – around 4,000 extra unexpected calls per day – creating a knock-on effect where NHS and transport crews could not reach us, increasing delays.”

A spokesman for SECAmb said: “South East Coast Ambulance Service wishes to clarify that the transition plan for the Patient Transport Service required that the data transfer for patients was the responsibility of the Patient Transport Bureau (PTB). The PTB is independent of our organisation and maintained the full database of patient journeys.

“We acted professionally throughout the transfer process and we are very proud of the care provided by our staff over many years.”

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