1066-country MPs seek assurances on patient transport service

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

MPs from Bexhill and Hastings have sought assurances from doctors on Sussex’s patient transport service run by Coperforma.

This week several leading sub-contractors working for the company claimed they have been ‘unable to operate effectively’ due to the inadequate system Coperforma are using, a problem compounded by inexperienced staff and a top-heavy management structure.

In a letter to doctors who commissioned the service, the sub-contractors accused Coperforma of not paying invoices in a timely manner, and added: “The situation is untenable and has reached a point that CCG’s have to act now before the PTS service collapses.”

But Coperforma, which took over in April and after a poor start has improved the service considerably, rebutted the allegations, claiming that all payments to contractors were up-to-date.

Now both Amber Rudd, Hastings and Rye MP, and Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman have written to the High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Commissioning Group suggesting that continued diligence was needed.

Mr Merriman said: “The nature of the new arrangement means that the local NHS clinical commissioning croup (CCG) do not directly contract with the companies which employ drivers.

“This role is provided by Coperforma and we are concerned to ensure that drivers are paid in full and on time.

“A failure to do so is not acceptable for the drivers and patient transport may suffer if they seek to enforce their rights.

“We are calling on the CCG to be directly involved to ensure that those providing the service are being resourced and compensated adequately. If this means changing the structure then this is something the CCG must consider.”

Ms Rudd added: “The CCG have reassured us this week that they are working with experts from NHS England and NHS Improvements to assess all outcomes and we want to ensure they have the support to do so. Whilst the performance has improved markedly, we have always maintained that a heightened state of alert is required in order to protect patients.”

A spokesman for Coperforma said this week : “Coperforma is a financially sound company which is managing contractors’ payments according to the principles of best business practice.

“All contractual payments are up to date but regrettably invoices are having to be disputed but as the problems are rectified the company commits to settling the agreed balances without any further delay.

“In the meantime the Coperforma network of CQC-regulated providers is fully operative and patients can be assured that there will be no interruption to their ambulance service.”

However the sub-contractors said that if all outstanding invoices were not paid in full within ten days they would have to start legal action against Coperforma, with an immediate reduction in services.

The letter concluded: “We are disgusted at the position Coperforma have put us all in and the devastating effect this will have on patients but we see no resolution to the situation without CCG intervention.”

But Coperforma countered the claims, stating that all contractual payments to the end of July were up-to-date, and invoices amounting to £360,115 are currently being disputed due to details not reconciling with their data records, and this figure representing just nine per cent of total payments.

This process is taking place because Coperforma is legally responsible as it is essentially managing taxpayers’ money and the company says it wants to act fairly.

The spokesman added: “The company is in a sound financial position to continue to deliver the county’s patient transport service which has now recovered from the initial problems and is operating at an average 94 per cent of the key performance indicators; these KPIs were set by the commissioners at the time the contract was awarded and were at a considerably higher level than patients enjoyed under the previous provider.”

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