• Sussex CCGs left out of pocket after covering wages for subcontractor
  • Coperforma pulled out of patient transport contract after less than a year
  • CCGs “looking at all the available options”

Clinical commissioning groups in Sussex are taking legal advice on whether they can get money back from a failed patient transport operator.

The seven CCGs in the county were left significantly out of pocket after they agreed to pay the wages for drivers employed by a subcontractor for Coperforma, which was awarded the patient transport contract for Sussex but withdrew in the first year.

The CCGs paid £642,000 in wages to keep the service running for over six months when a subcontractor ran into difficulty. However, that money was never paid back by Coperforma, which would have received payment from the CCGs for the journeys the ambulance staff undertook.

More than a year later, the CCGs have confirmed they are taking legal advice and are “currently looking at all the available options”.

The move comes as a last minute intervention has paused the compulsory striking off of Coperforma. A voluntary liquidator has been appointed.

The creditors, which supplied ambulances and services to Coperforma, were thought to want to appoint their own administrator to the company, believing this would give them a better chance of getting some of their money back. Had they not intervened, Companies House would have struck Coperforma off within the next few weeks. Any assets of the company would then pass to the Crown.

Coperforma took over the contract in April 2016, using an unusual model where it co-ordinated the service but employed subcontracted private ambulance companies to transport patients.

Patients and trusts complained that vehicles were not turning up, leaving people stranded at home missing appointments or stuck at hospitals unable to get home. Two of the private ambulance firms used by Coperforma subsequently went into liquidation.

After several months of intense criticism and a scathing Care Quality Commission report, Coperforma announced it was standing down from the contract in a phased withdrawal. South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust gradually took on the work.

The CCGs stepped in to pay the wages of 71 ambulance staff from August 2016 to February 2017 when the trust took on the responsibility. The staff worked for a subcontractor that had stopped paying them and then went into administration.

In a statement, the CCGs said: “We have consistently recognised and acknowledged the issues experienced with the non-emergency patient transport service under the contract with Coperforma. A number of independent reviews and reports were undertaken and published throughout 2016 and 2017 to identify the reasons for these and lessons learnt.

“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.”

Callers to Coperforma’s office phone number are being told it is no longer based there and no email or phone number are available for the company.

Article was updated on 16 January.