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Union fears over transfer of patient transport service in Norfolk to private firm

PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 June 2014

East of England Ambulance Service

 will lose the Norfolk Patient Transport Service contract on October 1.

East of England Ambulance Service will lose the Norfolk Patient Transport Service contract on October 1.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Fears have been raised that vulnerable patients may miss vital appointments when a private firm takes over the running of a non-emergency transport service in Norfolk.

The East of England Ambulance Service received a blow earlier this year after NHS commissioners in Norfolk decided to award a Patient Transport Services (PTS) contract to ERS Medical.

The private company takes over the service on October 1, which will be responsible for transporting eligible patients to and from hospital and treatment centres.

However, concerns have been raised by union officials after some patients were left waiting hours for transport, with some missing appointments for cancer treatment and dialysis, after ERS took over the PTS contract in Essex on May 1.

Officials from Unison said they feared the same thing could happen in Norfolk later this year, which is a bigger contract than the one being run in Mid Essex.

Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary for the East of England Ambulance Service, said Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) had admitted there had been a spike in complaints and safety concerns, since ERS Medical started running the transport service, which have yet to be resolved. She added that they were “extremely worried” about the future Norfolk service.

“Stakeholders in Mid Essex have reported patients waiting hours to be taken home, or arriving too late for their appointments. Many of these patients are extremely vulnerable and undergoing cancer treatment, or regular dialysis; it is very important that commissioners fully consider the implications of their decisions on patients, before deciding to go with a cheaper, private provider.”

“The East of England Ambulance trust has been running a good quality service for patient transport services for many years, in both Mid Essex and Norfolk, with high levels of patient satisfaction. The decision to award the Norfolk contract to the same private provider that has consistently failed in Mid Essex, does raise a number of questions about the CCGs putting cost ahead of patient safety.”

“It is very disappointing to hear that the vulnerable patients that rely on the service are being let down so badly, and we will be looking to the commissioners to take urgent action over this situation,” she said.

The East of England Ambulance Service has provided the Norfolk PTS service for the last eight years, which employs 120 staff. About 115,000 PTS journeys were undertaken in 2013/14 across Norfolk.

However, Jon Bryson, chairman of South Norfolk CCG, said ERS Medical was an experienced organisation which runs NHS transport services across the UK and that eligible patients “will continue to receive a high quality, free transport service” from October 1.

No one was available from ERS yesterday. However, managing director Brendan Fatchett previously said: “We’re excited about providing this new and improved service for the local community and will be using new technology, a fleet of all new vehicles and the highest standards of staff training to ensure we deliver outstanding levels of patient care.”

What are your experiences of PTS in Norfolk? Email

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