HEALTH bosses have admitted that a heavily-criticised patient transport service is still not operating as it should.

An investigation was launched into the problems that occurred when a private firm took over the service last October.

E-zec was awarded the contract by the NHS Dorset CCG last year, replacing former operators, the South Western Ambulance Service.

Patients complained about ambulances that failed to show up and E-zec’s allegedly poor customer service.

Jane Pike, pictured, director of review, design and delivery at NHS Dorset’s Clinical Commiss-ioning Group (CCG) told the Dorset Health Scrutiny Comm-ittee yesterday that things had improved but there are still issues to address. Ms Pike said: “We recognise that the service is not where we want to be.

“We have learned a lot through this process. We are working very to improve the quality of the service with the provider.”

The scrutiny panel received reports from the NHS Dorset CCG, E-zec, South Western Ambulance Service, Dorset County Hospital, Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust, Healthwatch Dorset and Dorset Advocacy.

Whilst admitting mistakes had been made, Ms Pike revealed the number of complaints had gone down significantly since April 1.

She added: “It’s a significant improvement to where we were nine months ago.”

Improvements were made to the service after E-zec was given extra funds to increase staff and vehicle numbers. Andy Wickenden, from E-zec, said: “We haven’t increased our rate from the tender. The profile of the contract has changed and it’s a different service but at no point did we ask for an increase on the mileage rate that we bid for.”

He added: “We are working with Healthwatch closely to get back patient feedback forms and work out ways we can increase that feedback.”

Councillors questioned, in light of the problems facing the service, whether it was possible for it to be retendered.

Paul Vater, director of finance at the NHS Dorset CCG said retendering the service would take time and effort.

He said: “The legal advice is that we can effectively do a complete retender or stick with the existing arrangements. It’s not definitive either way.”

Committee chairman Ronald Coatsworth asked the CCG to prepare another report for its next committee meeting in September.

The transfer previously came under a stinging attack from councillors who 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-zecMedical’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.

Cllr Ros Kayes said at the time: “It’s gargantuan failure and highlights the level of risk involved.”

And Cllr Berryl Ezzard said the servcie was ‘diabolical’.