The Guardian has recently reported concerns of how lives of vulnerable patients are being put at risk as a result of lengthy delays to South East Coast Ambulance services following the privatisation of their provision of non-urgent transport on 1 April 2016.
Private firm, Coperforma, is reportly paid £15.75 million annually as part of a four-year contract for the transportation of 300,000 patients a year to and from hospital appointments.
Patients have missed oncology appointments and scheduled dialysis sessions due to ambulances failing to collect them from their homes, and many have been left stranded at hospital, waiting to be taken home. The Royal Sussex County Hospital has had to fund taxis to take patients home following their appointments. There have been delays of up five hours for many elderly and terminally ill patients waiting for an ambulance.
Coperforma has implemented a new phone app despatch system that has meant some crews are doing nothing to respond to patients’ needs, as poor network coverage in some parts of Sussex has prevented them from receiving details of call outs. In addition, patients and their relatives have had to wait for up to 45 minutes to get through to the company’s phone lines, which cannot deal with the demand, despite claiming that it is using “all resources at its disposal”.
GMB, the union representing ambulance crews, has described the situation as “chaos” and “an absolute shambles”. Michael Clayton, Coperforma’s chief executive, has apologised for the delays, blaming the company’s predecessor, SECamb, for not supplying it with sufficient advance information on its patients. Coperforma is currently refusing to say how many patients have already been affected, although Sussex clinical commissioning groups estimate that the number is at least several hundred.
Emma Beeson, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “The spate of recently reported failings of the South East Coast Ambulance service highlight the importance of ensuring that there are appropriate systems and resources in place to deal with patients’ needs. Delays in ambulance attendance can lead to devastating consequences for patients needing both life-saving and non-urgent treatment."