Private Ambulance Service: New hospital transport operator appointed

The service is being moved from St Albans City Hospital to Hemel Hempstead. Photo: DANNY LOO

The service is being moved from St Albans City Hospital to Hemel Hempstead. Photo: DANNY LOO - Credit: Archant

The taxman has done what months of complaints, a public apology from the NHS, and an alleged referral to a government watchdog could not: close the controversial Private Ambulance Service.

On Wednesday, September 27, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs issued a winding up order for Private Ambulance Service (PAS), which provided transport to and from Herts and Beds hospitals.

East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) has been appointed as a caretaker operator.

Tim Roberts, regional manager for UNISON, which represents PAS employees, said: “We have been very concerned about this company for months.

“We know of numerous cases of vulnerable patients not being collected from hospital, and ambulances that failed to meet even basic standards of road worthiness.

William Hilton with his daughters (L-R) Linda Rose and Tina Hilton has had to wait up to three hours

William Hilton with his daughters (L-R) Linda Rose and Tina Hilton has had to wait up to three hours for a private ambulance at St Albans City hospital. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

“Wages were not being paid, credit lines were closing down, and contributions to the pension schemes held back. It was obvious the company was dying on its feet.”

“This is the second time a private company has failed to deliver this contract in 2017. It is a clear example of why outsourcing patient transport services to the cheapest provider simply doesn’t work. Patients and our members deserve better.

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“Our immediate concern is for the staff. We have already had urgent talks with the clinical commissioning groups and EEAS to discuss how this vital service can be delivered in the future, and how both staff and patients can be protected.”

It has been alleged by PAS employees that the company owed hundreds in unpaid overtime and pension contributions.

The Pensions Regulator refused to confirm PAS had been referred to them.

Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) chief executive Kathryn Magson said: “We have been working closely with UNISON and EEAS to ensure we can deliver continuity of service at this difficult time, and we are satisfied the new caretaker arrangements will help us to deliver this as a matter of urgency.

“We hope returning the contract for non-emergency transport to an established NHS provider will give assurance to our patients.

“Together with EEAS and the hospitals, we are working hard to make sure disruption is kept to an absolute minimum during this transition.

“However, some non-urgent appointments may be rescheduled while the new contract establishes, so that we can prioritise patients who are being discharged from hospital or attending appointments for cancer treatments and dialysis.”

Patients have previously had to wait hours, if not days, for a PAS ambulance to turn up.

However the change is not all good news, as former PAS client William Hilton has found out.

His daughter, Tina, said: “What a muddle this has left. Dad’s next four transport appointments have been made null and void.

“I tried to book a transport [since PAS’ decline all transport needs re-booking], but EEAS will only take re-bookings 48 hours in advance. Having said that I called today with 48 hours notice and have to book tomorrow for Wednesday morning.

“This really is going to be time-consuming and unacceptable. If today’s phone call was to be the start of the new service I hold out little hope it will be an improvement on PAS.”

EEAS chief executive Robert Morton said: “As part of the NHS family, we have come together to ensure patients get the care they need, when they need it. Our focus right now is ensuring services continue over the coming days and staff are supported in their workplace.”

Patients who are concerned about transport for next week should ring the place where they have their appointment.