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Suffolk: Serco defends fresh criticism of delays over equipment provision for vulnerable patients

PUBLISHED: 20:05 10 July 2014 | UPDATED: 20:05 10 July 2014

Concerns were raised in January about the performance of the Community Equipment Service (CES), part of Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare.

Concerns were raised in January about the performance of the Community Equipment Service (CES), part of Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare.

Bosses at the private firm providing community healthcare in Suffolk have defended themselves following concerns over equipment provision.

Jane Basham, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk, criticised the Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare after patients spoke of equipment delays.

Ms Basham heard how one elderly woman was told she would have to wait three weeks for a walking aid, while she also heard of delays for equipment for paediatric services as they were no longer stored in Suffolk.

It comes after concerns were raised in January about the performance of the Community Equipment Service (CES), part of Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare.

In October 2012, Serco took on the role of providing community health services to 600,000 patients in Suffolk.

The CES is an integrated service providing equipment for people with health and social care needs.

However, delays of up to five months in providing equipment, such as specialist beds, slings and hoists, and poor communication were among the concerns raised at a Suffolk health scrutiny committee meeting.

Ms Basham said: “We celebrated the creation of the NHS by Nye Bevan on July 5 1948 by having street stalls in Hadleigh and Sudbury where people queued up to sign our NHS birthday card.

“I am aware that there have been ongoing problems with the SERCO Community Health Care contract (and) was deeply concerned to hear from one woman whose elderly friend, really struggling with diminishing mobility. was told she would have to wait three weeks for a walking aid. Her friend, who had the means to do so, sorted one out for her.

“Another person told me that equipment for paediatric services was now stored many miles away – leading to delays and additional transport costs – when previously they were stored locally.

“It appals me that NHS services in Suffolk are being run down and sold off bit by bit with no consideration of the consequences for patients, their carers and relatives or the staff who work in it. Health care needs to be a public service, free at the point of delivery regardless of someone’s ability to pay.

“So much money is being wasted on commissioning and monitoring these types of contracts – money that would be better spent on people who need treatment. I have written to the chair of the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group about these issues and wait to hear.”

But Dr Abigail Tierney, chief executive of Suffolk Community Healthcare, said: “We are sorry if any of our patients have experienced difficulties with the community equipment service, which is much improved and making good progress with the action plan that has been agreed with the CCG.

“Recently, when the Ipswich store became too crowded we had to move some equipment elsewhere. This was highly specialised equipment that is rarely requested, such as standers that enable disabled children to stand up for therapy sessions. We continue to transport equipment at least twice a week to and from Ipswich as part of the existing service, at no additional cost.

“We have already contacted Ms Basham about the individual case that she has raised.”

A spokesman for the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, joint commissioners of Serco/Suffolk Community Healthcare, said: “Both CCGs actively monitor the performance of community health services in Suffolk to ensure good quality, safe services.

“This monitoring has previously highlighted that the community equipment service needs to perform better. Serco has acknowledged this need for improvement and the CCGs have actively supported Serco’s efforts to make the changes needed.

“Serco has already delivered improvements and has produced a Remedial Action Plan which aims to fully deliver the required performance improvements by the end of July.

“A recently published Quality Review, which included concerns over the community equipment service, also concluded that community equipment services in Suffolk are being provided safely.”

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