THE transfer of a patient transport service to a private company has come under a stinging attack from councillors who have labelled the process ‘diabolical’ and a ‘gargantuan failure’.
Patients due to visit hospitals for vital procedures such as chemotherapy and dialysis were not picked up or arrived late for treatments after a catalogue of errors in the transfer of Dorset’s non-emergency transport service, a committee of councillors has been told.
And E-zec Medical’s operations have also been slated in a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The company was told it needs to improve in four out of five areas examined by inspectors from the commission.
After Primary Care Trusts were dissolved the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) took on responsibility for providing a single non-emergency patient transport service for the whole of Dorset.
Deputy director at Dorset CCG Margaret Allen told a meeting of the Dorset Health Scrutiny Committee that private company E-zec Medical was awarded the contract and new service officially went live on October 1 last year, six months later than originally planned.
She said: “Certainly in the first six to eight weeks of the service it was quite disastrous.
“Some of those issues sat specifically with E-zec and some of them did not, some of them were completely beyond their control.”
Mrs Allen said that the issues included problems with the transfer of patient data while for the first four weeks after the new service went live E-zec received around 1,600 calls a day, compared to the 470 that had been expected.
The knock-on results saw patients picked up late and arrive late for appointments while some were not picked up at all.
Mrs Allen said that the CCG had pumped extra funds into the service on a short-term basis and had formally drawn up an action plan for improvements.
However, she accepted there were still ongoing issues with the service, saying: “It is true to say that there are still problems and that will take some time to resolve completely.”
The committee also heard from Dorset County Hospital divisional manager for surgery Laurie Scott, who said patients were arriving late for appointments, including renal patients who had to have their dialysis cut short.
He said: “It’s our reputation that is being harmed by this because the patients see this as our problem and we are quite uncomfortable about that.”
Councillor Janet Dover, pictured left, addressed the committee and said she knew of a patient who had struggled to get to a chemotherapy appointment due to problems with the service.
She said: “This is extremely distressing for patients that are involved in these delays.”
Cllr Mike Byatt said he had concerns about the financial impacts of the failures and added that the CCG had to take ultimate responsibility.
Cllr Ros Kayes also slammed the state of the service.
She said: “This is really very alarming when you consider the number of tenders that an organisation like the CCG is putting out.” Cllr Kayes added: “It’s gargantuan failure and highlights the level of risk involved.”
And Cllr Berryl Ezzard told Mrs Allen from the CCG: “You must have known that it wasn’t set up, surely it was going to fall at the first hurdle – it’s diabolical.
“It’s disgraceful and I’m really appalled by it.”
Members agreed to form a special select committee to investigate the failures and produce a report on lessons to be learned.
Report slams transport company
FURTHER criticism of E-zec Medical’s operations in Dorset and the CCG is laid out in a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The company, which provides patient transport to more than 100 NHS treatment centres across the county, was told it needs to improve in four out of five areas.
The CQC report stated that E-zec had “not been able to put in place sufficient staff and vehicles to deliver the service to the required standard”.
It also levelled criticism at the Dorset CCG, which awarded the contract, saying that it had not given E-zec accurate information on the workload.
The inspection was carried out in response to concerns from the public and health professionals, the CQC said.
Paul Swann, managing director of E-zec Medical Transport Services Limited, said: “We fully accept the finding of the report and are working with NHS Dorset CCG to meet the CQC’s recommendations.”
Jane Pike, director of service delivery at NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We recognise the point raised in the Care Quality Commission report regarding incorrect information on the number of pick-ups given to E-zec Medical during the tender process.
“The data we used to inform the tender document was provided to us from various local health and transport organisations.
“Every effort was made to gather and check the information, however the inaccuracies happened because of inconsistencies in the way that data had been recorded by the organisations who supplied it to us.
“We apologise for this oversight and continue to work closely with E-zec Medical to make improvements to the service.”
E-zec was told to make improvements in four areas – care and welfare of people who use services, requirements relating to workers, staffing and complaints. The only area where standards were met was in records.
Patients who were let down by the service said they were not surprised by the outcome of the report.
Dialysis patient William Bownes, 72, said: “I’m not surprised by the report, I’m only surprised it hasn’t come to light before now.”
Issues being resolved
MANAGING director of E-zec Medical Services Limited Paul Swann has acknowledged that there were ‘initial issues’ with the delivery of the service but insists work is ongoing to achieve ‘steady improvements.
He said: “We recognise the concerns raised by the Dorset Health Scrutiny Committee and acknowledge there were initial issues which affected services.
“We have continued to work closely with the CCG and other partners, and are undertaking an improvement plan which will bring about steady improvements.”
‘Sad’ to see long delay
A RENAL patient who knows the value of reliable transport to dialysis appointments said it was ‘sad’ to see patients facing delays or not being picked up.
Neil Murray, 47, said he was lucky to have been able to make arrangements to travel to Dorset County Hospital for his regular appointments but he knew of many, particularly elderly, patients who were reliant on the non-emergency transport service and were currently being let down.
He said: “These are already people with illnesses and to have to deal with something like this is pretty bad.”
Neil, from Bovington, said he had been told by staff at the renal unit that they had sent off reports on the many occasions that transport issues had impacted on services but they had not got any feedback.
He said: “Having an illness like this is one thing but to have this added to that it really is bad and it does get you down.
“Some of these people are in their 80s and when you come off a four-hour treatment all you want to do is go home.
“These people are having to hang around for an hour or sometimes their transport doesn’t even turn up. It’s pretty sad.”
Neil, a member of the Dorset Kidney Fund, said he was concerned that attempts to cut costs and save money were ultimately impacting on patients.
He said: “It’s all very well pinching the pennies but these people are suffering at the end of the day.”