• CCG pays wages owed to former NHS patient transport service staff
  • Commisioner says it intends to claw fees back from Coperforma, which disputes the issue
  • Some improvement in performance in recent months

A clinical commissioning group has paid the wages owed to the staff of a patient transport services subcontractor, amid a dispute with the main provider.

High Weald, Lewes and Havens Clinical Commissioning Group has been in disagreement for several weeks with Coperforma, with which it agreed a five year contract earlier this year covering Sussex and surrounding areas.

The dispute is over wages which were owed to staff who worked for subcontractors delivering services for Coperforma.

The staff affected had transferred from South East Coast Ambulance Service Trust, the previous provider, to a first subcontractor – VM Langfords, which went into administration in July.

They were transferred to a second subcontractor, Docklands Medical Services, but this firm also then went into administration last month.

Some staff were owed wages covering as much as two months, and managers at DMS have accused Coperforma of reneging on an agreement to pay wages owed to its staff.

The CCG told HSJ this week it was paying the owed wage bill, citing a “moral obligation to do so”. It said it intended to get the money back from contract payments to Coperforma.

However, the CCG and Coperforma still appear to be in disagreement about responsibility for the bill.

The CCG’s board paper said its arrangement with Coperforma meant those working for DMS were entitled to “retain their NHS terms and conditions” – which, according to the CCG, included funding back-pay.

David Davis, Coperforma’s director of communications, disagreed with this version of events. He told HSJ the agreement covered “a limited period only” and Coperforma had paid Docklands Medical Services all that it was owed for services provided.

Mr Davis also refused to say whether Coperforma would fund the money which had been paid out for wages by the CCG. He said the ambulance workers “were not and have never been our employees”.

A report for the CCG by an accountancy firm about the contract debacle recommended that, in addition, the CCG could consider whether it can claw back funding from Coperforma to cover its costs linked to dealing with the problems.

There have been substantial performance problems since services commenced under the contract, which is worth £62.6m, in April.

Coperforma had said it would use a “managed system” and “technical revolution” to improve services.

However, data input problems resulted in hundreds of patients missing hospital appointments, and the CCG received large numbers of complaints.

Coperforma has acknowledged performance problems. An open letter sent by its chief executive Michael Clayton to staff last week acknowledged “serious teething problems” but insisted its “technical revolution” meant it was now providing a reliable, efficient and cost-effective service to patients.

Figures from the CCG’s board paper appear to support this, stating that nine out of 10 patients are now getting to hospital and home again within the targets times, and the number of complaints has dropped.

However, the paper says improvements “are not Sussex-wide” and there are “multiple contingency plans in place… should anything happen that may impact on service delivery”.

The CCG has also hired a specialist adviser to work closely with Coperforma to ensure “improvements to date are maintained”.

Meanwhile, six members of Coperforma’s booking staff are being investigated over allegations of potential irregularities and omissions in the booking and dispatch of patient transport. The findings of the investigation are expected to be published soon.