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Private ambulance chaos

Patient transport has been thrown into chaos in Sussex. The Clinical Commissioning Groups for the county decided to take patient transport away from the ambulance trust, South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), and give the £63.5 million contract to private company Coperforma. This contract is for the non-emergency transport services that take patients to and from appointments.

Coperforma’s website proclaims that it is “transforming hospital transport”. Its chairman, John Porter, boasts that he also chairs a company called Sinocare, “which owns and operates hospitals in the People’s Republic of China and aims to raise the standard of health care for the Chinese middle class”. John Porter is the son of Dame Shirley Porter, fined £12.3 million for using Westminster council’s housing policies to rig votes.

The transformation has been thorough. SECAmb used to handle 25,000 patient journeys a month, but in the first two weeks of the contract Coperforma managed only 6,100. Patients and staff have been at their wits’ end. Booked transport failed to arrive, patients were left stranded at hospitals and staff had to arrange taxis to transport them home. Calls to Coperforma’s call centre from desperate patients and NHS staff went unanswered. 

Dialysis and cancer patients

Non-emergency patient transport is an important undertaking. It includes taking renal patients to dialysis and cancer patients for radiotherapy appointments. If patients miss their appointments or are delayed, the consequences can be serious, and sometimes fatal. 

Coperforma had the nerve to try to put the blame for the chaos onto SECAmb, saying that the ambulance trust had not transferred data on appointments, a claim SECAmb was easily able to refute. The chaos continues. It is rumoured that large numbers of staff have left Coperforma’s call centre. And now GMB members transferred from SECAmb to Coperforma are balloting on strike action since Coperforma has derecognised their union.