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Ambulance Watch: Blow for East of England Ambulance Service after losing non-emergency transport contract

PUBLISHED: 08:10 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:10 20 March 2014

The East of England Ambulance Service has lost its Patient Transport Service to a private provider.

The East of England Ambulance Service has lost its Patient Transport Service to a private provider.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2009

The region’s ambulance service has received a fresh blow after losing the contract for a non-emergency transport service in Norfolk.

Union officials have condemned the decision by commissioners, which will see Patient Transport Services (PTS) being moved from the East of England Ambulance Service to a private company.

Around 100 people work for the service in Norfolk, which will be transferred to ERS Medical in October. The private firm, which has its headquarters in Leeds, has offices in Norwich.

The PTS provides a vital lifeline for patients who are frail or need specialist assistance, to and from appointments at hospitals, treatment centres and other health related facilities.

The decision to change providers was made by the Clinical Commissioning Groups for Norwich, North Norfolk, South Norfolk and West Norfolk.

Liz McEwan, head of non-emergency services at the East of England Ambulance Service, said: “The existing non-emergency patient transport service contract for Norfolk was due to expire this year, and four clinical commissioning groups (CCG) in Norfolk put the service out to tender.”

“We put in a strong bid to run this service, as we believe we’re best placed to run patient transport and deliver quality services to patients. We have been proud to run it since EEAST was established in 2006 and I would like to thank the excellent staff whose hard work and dedication made the service what it was over the past eight years.

“However, unfortunately we were not successful and are working with staff to ensure they are supported through the transition to the new provider.”

The ambulance service holds contracts to provide non-emergency patient transport in Great Yarmouth and Waveney, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. It’s PTS makes about 1.1 million journeys every year.

The decision to privatise the service has been criticised by unions.

Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary East of England Ambulance Branch, said: “PTS staff are devastated by the news, many have worked for the NHS for a number of years - they are an integral part of our ambulance service.”

“The trust provides a high quality service transporting vulnerable patients to and from hospital. Patients report a high level of satisfaction with the service they currently receive. I fear this will not be the case if these services are run by private providers who are primarily concerned with making profits for shareholders.”

“It’s very disappointing the commissioners have chosen to award the contract to ERS. Undercutting costs to win contracts must mean cutting corners, and that will ultimately lead to patients losing out. In other areas of the country awarding NHS contracts to private companies has lead to a deterioration in standards and poor service delivery to patients. Our members are very concerned and upset - they care deeply about the work they do and feel proud to be part of the NHS.”

“The trust needs the support of its commissioners, especially when confidence is building following the appointment of Anthony Marsh as CEO in January.”

About 115,000 PTS journeys were undertaken in 2013/14 across Norfolk.

Jon Bryson, chairman of South Norfolk CCG, which led the procurement, said ERS Medical was an experienced organisation which runs NHS transport services across the UK. He added the NHS was required by law to carry out a full recommissioning process and that there was a full and rigorous clinical evaluation of bids.

“Those patients who are eligible will continue to receive a high quality, free transport service.

“In addition, the new service will cost less to run, which means we can spend the money we have saved on other areas of patient care,” he said.

What are your experiences of PTS in Norfolk? Email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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