• Seven CCGs are aiming to recover more than £7m after Coperforma went into liquidation
  • Administrators for the company have told HSJ it could make a counter claim against the NHS
  • The patient transport service was handed back to CCGs in 2016 after just seven months

Seven clinical commissioning groups in Sussex are trying to recover £7.4m from a collapsed private provider but could face a counter-claim from administrators, HSJ has learned.

The CCGs believe they are owed the money from Coperforma, a patient transport service that handed back a £16m a year transport contract for the county after just seven months in 2016.

It was replaced by South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, in a phased withdrawal after a critical Care Quality Commission report.

In January this year Coperforma was placed in creditors’ voluntary liquidation with a number of creditors – not including the CCGs – saying they were owed £377,449. Papers filed at Companies House suggest the company’s assets are nearly £2.9m but include substantial debts owed to the company.

A report to High Weald Lewes Havens CCG said the Sussex-wide debt was £7.4m, £700,000 of which was owed to the CCG.

The other CCGs are; Coastal West Sussex; Brighton and Hove; Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford; Hastings and Rother; Crawley; and Horsham and Mid Sussex.

Each CCG is recording its part of the debt in the year end accounts but the CCGs are still taking legal advice in a bid to recover the money.

However, the administrators said some of the debt owed to the company is from the CCGs who commissioned it – raising the possibility of both sides trying to recover money from each other. Michael Banton, assistant manager of administrators RSM Restructuring, confirmed they would try to recover monies from the CCGs, adding: “It is due from the NHS…it is still ongoing.”

In a statement the CCGs said: “The seven Sussex CCGs have been taking legal advice in relation to these issues and we are currently looking at all the available options. We are, therefore, unable to give further details or comment at this moment in time to ensure all the possible next steps remain available to us.” They declined to give any more details for “legal reasons.”

Coperforma was the only bidder for an innovative contract the CCGs had tendered for a managed service provider which split the provision of ambulance services and crew from the management of calls and despatching of ambulances. This meant the company was dependent on sub-contractors to provide sufficient staff and ambulances to meet demand.

But there were problems with the contract from the day the company took over in April 2016. Patients complained about late pickups and long waits for ambulances to take them home, and some hospitals incurred extra costs as they resorted to sending patients home by taxi and keeping staff late because dialysis sessions overran. At times staff at some of the sub-contractors were not being paid and the CCGs had to step in and pay the wage bill.

A series of reports commissioned by High Weald Lewes Havens CCG – which was the lead commissioner – found no evidence of physical harm being caused to patients but there had been psychological harm. It said that the procurement should have involved a PTS specialist, a phased transition might have helped and the CCGs should have contingency plans for when procurements go wrong.

Some of the sub-contractors working with Coperforma also went into liquidation. One – Docklands Medical Services – owed nearly £395,000 to the CCGs, according to governing body papers for Hastings and Rother and Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford CCGs. The two CCGs are proposing to write off their £119,000 share of this as a bad debt.