Staff facing redundancy at patient transport service contractor’s Sussex base

Thames Ambulance Service
Thames Ambulance Service

All East Sussex staff working for a patient transport services provider could be made redundant.

In 2015 Coperforma was chosen to run the non-emergency PTS contract by the county’s clinical commissioning groups but after a tumultuous start the private company agreed on an early exit with South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) stepping in.

Thames Ambulance Service Ltd (TASL) was one of Coperforma’s sub-contractors, but since SCAS took over it has substantially reduced the daily resource commissioned from TASL.

This led to roster changes at TASL at the start of 2019.

‘Reached point of no return’

However, since then SCAS has continued to reduce its daily demand for vehicles which it says is in response to deteriorating TASL staff attendance and availability to deliver a consistent service to patients.

TASL’s income from this provision is far outstripped by costs and it is now consulting on closing its Sussex provision entirely and making all staff based at its Sheffield Park base redundant.

Around 37 employees will be affected.

The company said it would seek to secure a TUPE or TUPE-like transfer of staff between TASL and SCAS.

Permanent vacancies across the company will be offered as redeployment opportunities with services not affected.

Graham Briggs, project director at TASL, said: “Regretfully TASL have reached a point of no return. The company is no longer prepared to continue to lose money on this provision.”

He explained that for the benefit of patients and to allow time for the commissioner to source a new provider, TASL is proposing to provide a diminishing service provision from the end of August to the end of November.

Resilience plans in place

A spokesman for SCAS said: “We have resilience plans in place and will work to ensure that this decision does not impact on the service provided to patients who use PTS in Sussex.

“We will also continue to be in discussion with the CCGs to manage the situation in an appropriate manner and develop future plans for the service in Sussex.”

‘Disappointing but not surprising’

The GMB union said its members were still suffering from the decision to award the patient transport service contract in 2015 to Coperforma and its only concern was to make sure its members are protected during the process .

The phased and diminishing service exit from August until the end of November will affect staff, many of who transferred from South East Coast Ambulance Service to TASL.

The company is one of the last of the original contractors still currently working in Sussex who were engaged by Coperforma.

The GMB said it will now seek to open discussions with SCAS to seek a transfer of all those staff due to be made redundant wishing to keep working to deliver PTS services in the county.

Gary Palmer, GMB regional organiser, said: “Disappointing but not surprising is how I would describe my first thoughts.

“The redundancy process in 2018 during October/November on the basis of realigning provision of the contract to lessen TASL’s month on month losses, and to build the ability to provide additional provisions in the county and surrounding areas was never unfortunately going to work after a never-ending stream of management changes on the contract.”

Solution needed ‘to the final part of this mess’

Meanwhile Labour politicians have called on the Sussex and East Surrey NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership and TASL to get around the table.

In a joint letter Jon Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP Brighton Kemptown, Peter Kyle, MP Hove, Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, and Nancy Platts, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said that the decision by the CCGs to outsource the contract to Coperforma had led to ‘terrible uncertainty for many of the staff caught up in the transfer’.

They described being ‘extremely pleased’ to see the majority of the contract brought back into the NHS.

They added: “Yet again long standing dedicated NHS workers, many of whom transferred out of the NHS in 2016, are facing uncertainty and possible job losses.

“We believe that it is now incumbent on you, the STP, to support South Central Ambulance Service to bring together a proposal to ensure the last bit of this privatised contract is brought back into the NHS where it belongs. We also want to see all staff given the opportunity to transfer into the NHS if they want to.

“We call on you to work swiftly with SCAS, Thames Ambulance Service and the workers’ representatives at the GMB union to seek a solution to the final part of this mess.”