Ambulance staff picket GP surgeries in row over unpaid wages

Sussex GPs who hold senior CCG management posts have seen their practices picketed by ambulance staff in a row over unpaid wages, following the collapse of a private provider.

Workers from the Sussex Patient Transport service employed by subcontractor Docklands Medical Services say they are owed wages after the firm closed its doors on Wednesday.

The workers’ GMB union has blamed CCGs involved in procuring the service for failing to carry out sufficient due diligence checks before handing the service to contractor Coperforma.

The workers held their first protest outside the practice of Brighton and Hove CCG chairman Dr Xavier Nalletamby on Wednesday and plan further action at the practices of GP leaders of the seven CCGs responsible for the deal. The union is demanding the CCGs reverse the contract award and hand the transport service over either to a local ambulance trust or another NHS body.

GP practice protests

GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said the protests would continue until the CCGs ‘correct the devastating mistake’ of awarding the ambulance service to Coperforma.

‘Not only has that error seen patients' journey experiences plummet to an all-time low but has left GMB members who, despite not being paid, have carried on working and would have continued to work if Docklands Medical Services Ltd hadn’t closed its doors on 14 September.

‘GMB members have continued to deliver the best service possible without jobs for the second time in 11 weeks following the previous contractor VM Langford’s liquidation.’

He added that 'the responsibility for this whole mess lies squarely at the door of the Sussex CCG members'.

‘It’s a responsibility the GMB now expects them to exercise in bringing this service back into the NHS family immediately, either with South East Coast Ambulance Service or even into a Sussex-based NHS hospital trust to administer on behalf of the whole of the county.’

Ambulance service

A report published by the CCGs last month admitted the patient transport service, taken over by Coperforma in April following a competitive tendering process, had seen ‘unacceptable levels of performance’. The CCGs apologised then to patients and trusts.

A Coperforma spokesman said: 'We are urgently seeking clarification of overnight reports that Docklands Medical Services (DMS) has ceased operations and will issue further information as and when we receive it.

'In the meantime we can assure all patients that there will be no impact on the provision of the patient transport service across Sussex because one of the key benefits of the Coperforma managed service is that we can quickly switch capacity, as we have done in this case, to another provider. 

'We had no prior knowledge from the management of DMS of this turn of events, particularly as all our contractual financial obligations to the company are fully up to date, we have received written assurance from them to that effect, and we were assured that all staff salaries were being paid.

'Since DMS agreed to take over from VM Langfords we have made payments to them totalling £479,256. Coperforma is a financially sound company, our contractors’ invoices are being paid on time and the Sussex patient transport service is operating well.'

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