Transport care for patients is under scrutiny

A private ambulance service used to transport NHS patients to hospital appointments has come under fire from a health watchdog.

Healthwatch Central Bedfordshire (HCB) said users of the transport provided by Private Ambulance Service (PAS) had missed hospital appointments and had little confidence in the system.

PAS was given a 12 month contract earlier this year to relay non-emergency patients to and from hospital appointments from Luton, Bedford, the Biggleswade area, Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable.

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In March this year our sister paper the Biggleswade Chronicle reported how patients had missed appointments, been late or had not been picked up for the return home from hospital.

One woman was left at the hospital after the sessions were due to close and staff had to arrange for a taxi to take her home.

Another man said he got back home so late he had to sleep in his day clothes as his carers had left for the night.

A survey released by HCB this month said 70 per cent of those questioned were dissatisfied or very dissatified with communication from PAS and 67 per cent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied that the tranport arrived on time. Satisfaction levels with the service overall were low with 55 per cent being either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. But 76 per cent praised the drivers of the service.

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Patients had experienced late pick up and drop off times, in some cases up to five hours,” said the report.

“Some patients had missed healthcare appointments or had been very late arriving and were not confident that future commitments would be met by the service.”

Those attending Bedford Hospital renal unit were particularly hard hit with staff having to make changes to their dialysis slots to minimise the impact on their treatment and home life.

“Many of the respondents commented on how the service impacted poorly on their life, causing stress and anxiety,” said the report.

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There were also concerns the fabric seats of the cars and ambulances could not be adequately cleaned, raising fears of infection.

“As the service period progressed there was evidence of some improvement across all services,” said the report. “However, this was not consistent across all respondents and there was little confidence that this was a sustainable, long term improvement.”

The watchdog said PAS needed to apply a contractually agreed complaints procedure and review its vehicle stock to meet infection control guidelines.

It also recommended the HCB be included in any future negotiations for a non emergency patient transport service.

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A spokesman for Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said the group: “takes the results of the survey extremely seriously and has been working closely with the provider Private Ambulance Service (PAS) to take action on patient feedback to tackle the issues raised head on.

“We have put in place an action plan with PAS to drive improvements. As part of this the BCCG quality team are monitoring the performance of the service closely, making unannounced visits and meeting with patients, to ensure improvements are reflected in patient experience.

“The feedback from the patient survey will also be used to inform the procurement process which is underway with a new contract due to commence in April 2018.”

Luton Borough Council is to consider the service at its Scrutiny health and Social Care Review group when it meets on Monday.