Article published: Monday, October 15th 2012
Train and bus company Arriva is to take over part of Manchester’s ambulance service in an attempt to cut NHS costs across the region.
The private operator has won a three year contract to run Greater Manchester’s Patient Transport Service (PTS), despite scoring lower on quality standards than current NHS providers the North West Ambulance Service.
The service provides non-urgent transport to and from hospital appointments for patients with medical needs. The company promises to run the fleet of cars and ambulances for £3.5m less a year than the £14m charged by the Ambulance Service, according to the Manchester Evening News.
Arriva’s specialist transport service, Arriva Transport Solutions, also run other PTS contracts in the UK, with 4,000 patient journeys being taken per day on behalf of NHS Trusts across the Midlands and North East of England.
Hadrian Collier of NHS Blackpool, the commissioning body which awarded the bid, told Mule that “Arriva submitted the most economically advantageous offer. This is the highest rated mix of quality and price … Arriva scored within one mark of the highest rated bid in the assessment of service for quality and performance.”
When asked why commissioners argue outsourcing will provide the best possible service to the people of Greater Manchester, he said commissioners had acted in accordance with procurement rules and policy and that “national guidance” dictates that “all NHS organisations have a duty to ensure quality and competition for all its [sic] services”.
North West Ambulance Deputy Chief Executive Bob Williams said he was “extremely disappointed” about the decision. “Whilst we were successful in the North West’s remaining counties, demonstrating that there is confidence in the service we provide, our focus now is on our staff and the impact on them”, he added.
Campaign group Save Our NHS Ambulances, along with the public sector trade union Unison, are fighting to halt the proposals before the outsourcing contract is finalised.
Angela Raynor of Unison North West said, “The principal of the NHS is that it’s free at the point of need and a public service. The contract was awarded without any public debate based on cost and not quality.”
She claimed the heart of the issue was “whether we fundamentally want our NHS services delivered and accountable to the public and for the public or if we want the market to govern commissioning of care.”
Raynor added, “We see time and time again the failures when the market has been introduced into areas of the public sector where it doesn’t suit. The private sector is run by profit margins and profit has no place in patient care. Before we know it the NHS will be broken up and parts sold off to the lowest bidder that will impact on services and quality of care.”
Cath Stone, whose daughter regularly uses the PTS within Manchester, also objected to the decision to outsource a service her family relies upon. “It’s a relief to know there are trained staff if anything happens to Helena in the ambulance”, she said.
“I fear [Arriva] might not have as highly trained people and I want to feel confident that if they had a problem on the way they could save the life of the person there.”
Director of Ambulance Commissioning Allan Jude of NHS Blackpool told reporters that Arriva staff would be trained in “basic first aid, life support and resuscitation techniques”.
Arriva’s track record of running Patient Transport Services has been criticised as “chaotic” by one whistleblower, with the company’s contract in Leicester failing to start on time. The company was recently forced into a U-turn when one attempt to introduce expensive telephone contact lines was met with furious opposition, and it has faced further complaints from patients forced to wait for lengthy periods of time to return home from their hospital appointments.
To halt the privatisation of the Ambulance Service, Save Our NHS Ambulances are urging the public to get involved. You can find out more information and sign the campaign petition at their website