Private Ambulance Service: St Albans council demand answers from NHS over “Arthur Daley-type” company

Cllr Mal Pakenham, who seconded the motion on Private Ambulance Service, outside the St Albans counc

Cllr Mal Pakenham, who seconded the motion on Private Ambulance Service, outside the St Albans council offices. Photo: DANNY LOO - Credit: Archant

St Albans councillors have blasted an NHS body as “not fit for purpose” and “a busted flush”.

At a full council meeting last night, SADC backed a Labour motion expressing concern about the closure of Private Ambulance Service and the treatment of vulnerable patients.

Private Ambulance Service (PAS), which provided non-emergency patient transport in Herts, folded last month, leaving patients in the lurch.

The council’s motion was proposed by Cllr Roma Mills, who said: “I was not surprised to learn Private Ambulance Service was in trouble, because its performance had been so poor.”

Before it closed, a number of patients complained about waiting hours for Private Ambulance Service to pick them up.

The volume of complaints eventually squeezed an apology out of Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG), who hired the company.

Cllr Mills continued: “We have to get HVCCG to focus on a sustainable contract going forward.

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“As health services have become more centralised, it’s more important these services [like PAS] are available.”

Cllr Gillian Clark’s late husband made use of private ambulances to get to hospital appointments, as he could not be transported in a normal ambulance because of his wheelchair.

Cllr Clark said: “When we went to the appointment the hospital ordered the return vehicle, and did not consider his needs.

“A guy turned up and he was not driving the right sort of ambulance, so we had to wait a considerable time.

“I just hope whoever has to organise it realises patients have to have reliable service, whether they be going for non-emergency or emergency treatment.”

After the taxman issued a winding up order for PAS, the NHS-owned East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) took over.

It promptly informed patients they would have to reschedule transport which had already been arranged with PAS.

“EEAS are doing sterling work, but nonetheless there are people who are not going to be able to get to their appointments, and I do not think that is good enough,” Cllr Mills said.

Lib Dem councillor Chris White concentrated his fire on HVCCG, saying: “HVCCG are not up to the job they are supposed to do.

“They are a busted flush, and I am rather tired of dealing with HVCCG mess-ups, of which there have been several already.

“There are far too many NHS entities in this county. Simplify the system and just get on with providing health care.”

Cllr Malachy Pakenham likened HVCCG’s behaviour over PAS to their behaviour over Nascot Lawn, a respite centre HVCCG tried to close.

He questioned and baited HVCCG on their ability to function properly, saying: “The briefing note [given to councillors by HVCCG] is self-serving.

“It refers to a skeleton service. Is that because patients have had to wait so long they expired?

He said the taxman would only issue a winding-up order if there is a High Court petition from creditors wanting their money back.

“If HVCCG picks an Arthur Daley-type company to run such a service then they have serious questions to answer.

“Once again, when it fails the public always have to pick up the pieces.”

A HVCCG spokesperson said: “Our priority has been to get a safe patient transport service in place so that patients who are eligible for transport are able to get to and from hospital appointments.

“While EEAST works to establish a full service, our initial focus has been on supporting patients that need transport services most, by prioritising appointments for chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hospital discharges.

“Clearly we need to look at what lessons need to be learnt, and we will look at this once we are sure that we have a comprehensive and reliable transport service in place and operating smoothly.”