New patient transport service in Sussex ‘unacceptable’

Royal Sussex County Hospital SUS-160225-133137001
Royal Sussex County Hospital SUS-160225-133137001

Hundreds of patients across Sussex have faced delays and cancellations after waiting for transport to and from hospitals.

Coperforma won the contract – previously held by South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) – to move patients to NHS funded treatment at acute hospitals and community care. It took over the running of the Patient Transport Service on April 1. However, the company has been forced to apologise after patients – some of whom live alone – have been left at their homes and can not get to hospital for treatment.

The delays in the service have also caused significant delays at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, with nursing staff being paid overtime to stay until midnight so patients needing dialysis and cancer treatment can be cared for.

Elizabeth Towner, 70, of Church Street, Bexhill, was expecting an ambulance to take her to hospital in East Grinstead for a pre-operation assessment at 12.50pm on April 4.

“They told me the ambulance would be here between 10.16am and 11am,” said Mrs Towner. “But it didn’t arrive.”

“I thought, there’s no way I’m going to make my appointment.”

Mrs Towner contacted Coperforma but was left on hold for 45 minutes. She was told an ambulance could be there to get her to a later appointment at 3pm, but again, no ambulance turned up.

Mrs Towner, who lives on her own, said she had to reschedule the appointment for another day, but is concerned the operation could be cancelled if she can’t make it.

“I don’t see how companies can be allowed to treat people like this,” she added. “I just think it is totally unacceptable.”

Mrs Towner said if her operation is cancelled, her cancer could get worse.

Gavin Muggeridge, who lives in Busticle Lane, Sompting, said he cares for an 79-year-old man who receives dialysis every two weeks at Royal Sussex County Hospital (RSCH) in Brighton.

Mr Muggeridge said: “He was ringing and ringing. They kept him on the phone for ages and ages. It cost a fortune. He was getting very worried.”

Eventually a slot was booked for today (April 5), but this morning, Mr Muggeridge said the ambulance has still not arrived.

Teresa Blackburn, from Newhaven, receives dialysis at the RSCH. She said people are booked into a slot, but if they don’t arrive on time it causes delays down the line.

“I get to the hospital under my own steam,” she said. “But I spoke to two other patients. They had to wait for proper ambulances. Some patients weren’t being brought in at all. It makes you think are they actually endangered.

“Going through the treatment itself is quite gruelling but this must be very stressful. The nursing staff are trying to do what they can. If the nurses are stressed it doesn’t bode well.”

Mrs Blackburn has written to MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield to complain about Coperforma’s service.

‘Unreserved apology’

Coperforma said it ‘apologises unreservedly’ to patients and clinical staff experiencing delays in transport to and from appointments.

Michael Clayton, CEO of Coperforma said: “Coperforma accepts that the level of service it has been able to provide over the first few days of its Sussex provision is unacceptable.

“Whilst Coperforma takes full responsibility for the situation, a number of factors outside of our control at the takeover point contributed to a ‘perfect storm’ that have mitigated against as successful start to the service as had been planned.”

The company said ‘hundreds’ of new journey bookings were ‘unnecessarily withheld’ until 11.15pm on Thursday night and the reasons for this are being investigated.

A spokesman for Coperforma added: “Patients being told that 40 to 50 per cent of renal patients would no longer be receiving NHS Hospital transport caused huge anxiety and understandably resulted in thousands of calls from anxious patients.

“Patients being advised in the days before handover to call back after April 1, to make bookings and re-confirm their existing future bookings, has again caused unnecessary stress for patients and caused unnecessary call volume.”

Coperforma said the ‘late timing of the data’ presented ‘huge challenges’ to its transfer into the booking system.

Mr Clayton added: “We have added 18 additional staff into our Demand Centres and are working hard to extend the on-line access to patients and clinical staff to ensure that going forward we deliver the service that all patients and NHS clinical staff expect and deserve.”