Redundancy fears at Sussex patient transport service sub-contractor Thames Ambulance

South Central Ambulance Service runs the non-emergency patient transport service in Sussex. One of its sub-contractors Thames Ambulance Service has announced planned redundancies
South Central Ambulance Service runs the non-emergency patient transport service in Sussex. One of its sub-contractors Thames Ambulance Service has announced planned redundancies

Planned redundancies at a sub-contractor for Sussex’s patient transport service have been announced.

Private company Coperforma was awarded the contract by the county’s clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in April 2016, but it never recovered from a disastrous start and after seven months a ‘friendly divorce’ was announced.

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust stepped in to take over the service providing transport for non-emergency patients and has run it ever since.

Now sub-contractor Thames Ambulance Service Limited (TASL) has announced potential redundancies as it looks to reduce staff numbers by ten from 42 to 32 at its non-emergency patient transport service (NEPTS) operating out of Sheffield Park near Uckfield.

Graham Briggs, TASL’s director of workforce, said: “It is with deep regret that we have today written to all our staff explaining why we need to introduce new rosters and reducing our staffing numbers.

“Our commitment to patients remains a priority but to deliver that commitment we need certainty and a workforce we can afford.”

“When we first started to provide NEPTS services in East Sussex we were supplying Coperforma with up to 40 vehicles per weekday. In August this year the demand was just six vehicles per weekday.

“Following the demise of Coperforma and the assignment of the contract to South Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SCAS) there has been a steady and material decline in the number of vehicles TASL has been requested to supply.

“We have allowed our workforce numbers to naturally decline over that time but we have now reached a point where we simply have far more staff than vehicles being requested.

“We have to act for the good of the business and to try to secure a longer term future for the remaining staff. At this moment we see a reduction from 42 staff to 32 staff.

“We have discussed with SCAS the potential for them to take our staff and services back into the NHS but those talks have stalled. Alternatively SCAS are proposing to issue a contract to all their independent providers. Whilst this is helpful in hopefully setting a minimum daily demand, no one has seen the draft contract and we do not yet know if it is something we can sign up to.

“Hopefully it will mirror the national model contract used by NHS Commissioners for non-emergency patient transport services across the country.

“TASL’s consultation will run for the next 30 days. We will be working closely with the company’s recognised union, GMB, with the common aim of minimising compulsory redundancies and securing the best long term outcomes we can for the majority of staff.”

Paul Stevens, director of Commercial Services at SCAS, said: “SCAS is aware of a consultation that Thames Ambulance Service has launched with its staff and their union representatives. Thames Ambulance Service is one of a number of private providers that SCAS has been working in partnership with since the trust took over the patient transport service contract for Sussex.

“SCAS remains committed to working with those partners that can provide the high-quality, punctual and patient-focused service that local people expect and deserve.”

Meanwhile the GMB union has already met with TASL urging it to go to SCAS and champion the case for transfer of staff back into the NHS.

The union said it would continue to make representations for demand to be increased to match TASL’s current available capacity to avoid redundancies.

Gary Palmer, GMB regional organiser, said: “Unfortunately, if unable to or whilst we seek to persuade TASL to step back from the redundancy process, we will be looking to them to mitigate reducing possible redundancy numbers even further and in applying and ensuring fair selection processes including seeking possible voluntary redundancies in the first instance.

“It’s going to be a real shame that such professional and experienced PTS specialists are going to be lost to the service, patients and county and devastating to those staff and their families who might find themselves compulsorily made redundant with Christmas around the corner. GMB will be there to support all who need us and we will continue to make robust representation to all involved in regard to doing the right thing.”