Bailiffs seize ambulances

by Daphne Liddle

THE GROWING crisis in our ambulance services throughout England was highlighted last week when bailiffs in Sussex seized five ambulances belonging to a private contractor working under the NHS logo.

Creditors sent bailiffs to sites in Worthing, Bognor Regis and Alton on Wednesday 15th June, recovering five vehicles as payment for Patient Transport Service (PTS) provider VM Langfords’ debts. Peter Hall, the insolvency administrator appointed to oversee VM Langfords, has protected them from having further assets reclaimed and to allow service provision to continue in West Sussex in the immediate future. He is hoping to sell the company.

GMB, the union representing the ambulance staff, called on the Health Select Committee last Friday, 17th June, to investigate the growing crisis in Sussex PTS after the news that VM Langfords had gone into liquidation.

The ambulances seized were not emergency response vehicles. Nevertheless, their disappearance and the collapse of the service leaves many patients unable to get to hospital for vital appointments and life-saving treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The bankruptcy followed a long period of deterioration of the service, a recent change of the company running the service followed by a fall into bankruptcy.

Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have received severe criticism from MPs and local residents as hundreds of patients suffering from severe illnesses have missed vital NHS appointments, with some patients reporting waits of more than five hours.

GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said: “Once again Sussex CCGs are putting patients’ lives in danger as the fall-out from their disastrous break up of county’s PTS service and the vastly undervalued tendering process takes yet another ludicrous turn.

“Only three months into an already fiasco-ridden contract and it seems VM Langfords will now go bust.

“The NHS services provided to meet the needs of patients and other local people are about as far off the mark in Sussex as they could be.

“Handing over valued NHS services to the likes of Coperforma and Langfords without checking providers’ ability to deliver those valued services professionally and efficiently is a travesty.

“These providers care only about getting value for money from a diminishing NHS budget regardless of outcomes for patients.

“GMB will continue to work hard to find a professional provider who will commit to working with us, as the union for health workers, to take up and deliver the kind of service patients and staff alike deserve.

“We will be seeking assurances from all concerned that both the affected staff who find their jobs potentially under threat only 10 weeks into a new contract and the long-suffering patients in Sussex will be looked after should a new provider not be found before creditors call time on Langfords.

“GMB are calling on the Health Select Committee to urgently investigate this utterly avoidable crisis and examine why CCGs ignored all warnings from GMB and other professional bodies about the recklessness of outsourcing this service.

“Heads should roll for this dangerous and deeply troubling scandal.”

Sussex is far from the only ambulance service in deep trouble. In January a private ambulance service based in Banbury went into liquidation after the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) pulled a contract.

Banbury Private Ambulance Service Ltd bosses, Marcus and Annmarie Warner, called staff to tell them not to report for work the next Monday. They pulled the plug and 40 jobs were cut.

Banbury was another PTS but emergency response services are also in trouble.

In England the ambulance service is meant to respond to the most critical calls — known as red one (cardiac arrests and where the patient is not breathing) and red two (other life-threatening situations) — within eight minutes.

But latest figures show that in March just 66.5 per cent of red one calls and 58 per cent of red two calls were dealt with in that time-frame, down from 73.4 per cent and 69.6 per cent respectively.

The unions are warning of a huge recruitment problem while there is a growing loss of skilled staff through stress and despair.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, says staff just do not feel their skills and hard work are being recognised.

At the end of last year the London ambulance service was put into special measures, with inspectors warning the large number of unfilled vacancies and slow response times were of particular concern.

And a report by the regulator earlier this month made a similar warning about East Midlands Ambulance Service, saying there were “insufficient staff” to respond to demand.