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CQC critical of ‘unacceptably poor start’ to cancelled Coperforma contract

Patient transport services provided by Coperforma in Sussex had an “unacceptably poor start”, the CQC has said as the company lost its contract.

Coperforma took over the contract to manage booking of transport services for eligible NHS patients in Sussex on 1 April this year.

It was announced yesterday that South Central Ambulance Service NHS FT will take over the Coperforma contract by April 2017.

Between April and July, patients and their families, as well as Coperforma and hospital staff, made 52 complaints to the CQC about the service, leading Coperforma to issue an apology.

Issues included delays in pickups, cancellations without notification, inappropriate vehicles being dispatched, difficulties in getting through to the control centre and vehicles not arriving, leading to patients missing their hospital appointments.

Professor Edward Baker, CQC’s deputy chief inspector in the south, said: “The new patient transport service provided by Coperforma got off to an unacceptably poor start. The commissioners were rightly concerned about the implications for patient safety.

“Although they do not provide the vehicles directly – they do have responsibility for managing the service, and ensuring that subcontractors provide a service which is safe, effective and reliable. Our inspection highlighted significant concerns about the provider’s oversight of this service.”

An announced CQC inspection of the Coperforma Demand Management Centre at Andover on 12 and 13 July found a number of concerns.

For instance, the vehicles and equipment used were not always safe and appropriate, and comprehensive quality assurance checks had not been performed on all transport providers. There was also no system for staff to learn from complaints, and systems and processes were not always reliable and appropriate to keep patients safe.

In addition, Coperforma did not demonstrate that it fully understood its legal requirements with regard to the Health and Social Care Act 2008, and had not assessed two centres in Sussex to see if they followed the correct CQC ‘what is a location’ criteria.

The CQC served six requirement notices to Coperforma to ensure it improved services.

Its recommendations included:

  • Ensuring a robust system is in place for handling, managing and monitoring complaints and concerns.
  • Ensuring the vehicles and equipment used by contracted services is appropriate for safe transportation of patients, including wheelchair users.
  • Ensuring patients receive timely transport services so they can access the health services they need from other providers.
  • Ensuring transport provider staff always have essential information about patient’s needs.
  • Ensuring a vision and strategy for the service developed and to ensure this is embedded across the organisation.
  • Ensuring Coperforma and registered persons understand their legal requirements with regard to the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

Since the inspection, Coperforma produced an action plan to address the issues raised, and acquired additional vehicles. Professor Baker also noted that the CQC has seen evidence that “since the summer the provider has made significant improvements in performance”.

But following the loss of the contract, Michael Clayton, chief executive of Coperforma, said: “We are, of course, disappointed that we shall not be continuing to deliver the Sussex patient transport service contract in the longer term.  This is particularly unfortunate for all the people in our company and contractors who have worked so hard, after a difficult start, to provide patients across the county with a much improved safe and reliable service.

“Talks are scheduled today with the commissioners to agree final terms and conditions to bring the contact to an end. In the meantime patients will continue to be our priority and we will be ensuring that there will be no interruption to the service.”

The CQC has said it will continue to monitor patient transport services in Sussex while the service is in transition.

(Image c. Graham Richardson)

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