Several Sussex patient transport service ambulances repossessed, union claims

Delays continue following the serious collision
Delays continue following the serious collision

A firm sub-contracted to help run patient transport services in Sussex has had several ambulances repossessed, according to several unions.

Coperforma was awarded the PTS contract for the county in April, taking over from South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), but since then patients have been affected by numerous incidents of crews either not turning up or showing up late.

Now VM Langfords, one of a number of transport provider companies working on the delivery of the PTS Sussex contract for Coperforma, has appointed a business and insolvency advice company after creditors sent bailiffs to sites in Bognor Regis and Worthing to repossess ambulances on Wednesday (June 15), according to unions UNISON and the GMB.

Michael Clayton, chief executive officer at Coperforma, said: “As soon as Coperforma were made aware of changes in ownership of and control at VM Langfords towards the end of May, it triggered an internal Quality Assurance Review.

“The information gathered from the review by our qualified inspectors indicated that Coperforma needed to bring in additional resources from the company’s existing network of partner companies.  

“While situations of this nature are unfortunate, the speed and effectiveness of the transition procedure we have put in place demonstrates the benefits of a managed ambulance service and our ability to bring in additional resources promptly.

“The transition of capacity to other providers has not impacted on service provision as the company’s performance across Sussex has continued to improve week on week in line with our improvement trajectory.

“We have kept the CCGs fully informed of the changes we have implemented and are continuing to work closely with them to monitor performance.

“To ensure the employment status and rights of staff affected by the changes at Langfords are fully protected, our contracts with transport partners stipulate that any staff transferring to them do so under TUPE regulations.

“Although this course of action requires additional resource at Coperforma’s expense, this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Mr Clayton added: “Since the start of the Sussex contract, Coperforma has insisted that all staff – whether legally bound to transfer from previous providers under TUPE or not – were transferred as though it did apply, thus securing the employment status and rights of all engaged in delivering the Sussex patient transport service.”

A spokesperson for the Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) said: “The CCGs have been informed by Coperforma of the changes in ownership and control at VM Langfords.

“We are working closely with Coperforma to ensure that plans are in place to minimise the impact on patient transport service delivery and patient experience.

“The CCGs will be working with Unison, the recognised trade union, to ensure that any affect on staff is in keeping with employment legislation and good practice.”

Peter Steventon, UNISON branch secretary for SECAmb said that Coperforma had to take some of the responsibility for this situation.

He added: “Ambulances have been repossessed and UNISON members have not been paid, we want to know what Coperforma are doing to protect this service and our members’ jobs.

“The public has a right to know if due diligence was carried out by Coperforma and the CCG prior to outsourcing this contract and what procedures they are putting in place to maintain the service.”

Stephanie Cesana, UNISON regional organiser, added: “UNISON members are rightly concerned about their jobs and the patient transport service for the public. This debacle is a direct result of the Government’s outsourcing agenda. The contract for running this PTS was outsourced by the Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to Coperforma, a multi service provider. Coperforma then sub contracted it out to VM Langfords.”

Meanwhile the GMB has called for the Health Select Committee to investigate what it described as a ‘growing crisis’ in Sussex patient transport services.

It explained that VM Langford had appointed insolvency administrators Peter Hall yesterday (Thursday June 16) to stop further assets from being reclaimed and to allow service provision to continue.

Gary Palmer, GMB regional organiser, called the situation a ‘travesty’ and added: “The NHS services provided to meet the needs of patients and other local people are about as far off the mark in Sussex as they could be.”

All but two of the county’s Tory MPs signed a letter last month 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.

The MPs met bosses at Coperforma and the CCG in Westminster where doctors told MPs that they have been working closely with the firm to establish the cause of the problems.

They are currently awaiting the results of an independent report to investigate the handover problems, while an improvement plan has been agreed and is being reviewed on a weekly basis.

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