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Essex: Union criticises appointment of private company to run patient transport service

PUBLISHED: 07:35 22 January 2014 | UPDATED: 07:35 22 January 2014

Paramedics are attending to two men trapped in a slurry pit.

Paramedics are attending to two men trapped in a slurry pit.

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Health chiefs have refuted claims that patient care has been put at risk after a private company was chosen to run a patient transport service.

As of April, ERS Medical will operate the service taking patients to and from hospital for non-emergency treatment for Mid-Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which oversees health services in Braintree, Witham, Maldon and Chelmsford.

The service is currently provided by the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST).

Public services union Unison says staff have been shocked by the decision and there are fears a private company will prioritise shareholder profit over patient care.

The CCG has countered that under procurement rules it is obliged to consider bids from all providers, including private companies, and that ERS Medical has been evaluated “robustly” to assure patients’ safety.

Regional organiser for Unison, Tim Roberts, said the union believes patient care has been risked by the decision. He added: “This is an extremely disappointing decision. EEAST currently delivers an excellent service transporting patients to and from hospital for non-emergency treatment.

“Our members work hard to deliver quality care to vulnerable patients, including pensioners and disabled people. I went to meet many of the staff affected and they are still in shock.

“The public expects key health services to be run by the NHS and not some private company that prioritises shareholder profit over patient care. This is yet another example of the fragmentation of the NHS under this Conservative-Lib Dem led government.”

Around 50 staff will be transferred over to ERS Medical before April. The company already runs services for a number of NHS organisations including providing transport for high-risk patients for the Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and mail courier services for the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust.

A spokesman for Mid-Essex CCG said patients can be assured they will receive a “safe and high standard” transport service.

He said: “Patient safety is of paramount importance to the CCG in all the services it commissions on behalf of the people it serves in mid-Essex.

“The statutory procurement process for the non-emergency patient transport service in mid-Essex involved a robust evaluation of patient safety against a range of quality measures. The opportunity to tender was open to all sectors, including NHS and private organisations, in line with national procurement regulations. Ongoing performance and quality management will be rigorously monitored.

“ERS Medical has similar contracts across the country and we are looking forward to working with them on this important service.”

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