• Waiting lists and times have increased
  • Councillors have called for the CCG to consider quitting contract
  • Lead commissioner says there are lessons to be learned

Clinical commissioning groups in Kent are being asked to find at least an extra £2m for a service which is leaving people waiting months for wheelchairs. 

Millbrook Healthcare has run wheelchair services across the eight CCGs since April 2017 after winning a contract worth £6.2m a year. 

But since it took over, waiting times have soared and there are now 3,353 patients waiting, of which 2,180 have been waiting for more than 18 weeks. When it took over, 1,256 patients were waiting with approximately 40 per cent waiting more than 18 weeks.

A report to the CCGs says the equipment budget is overspent by 21 per cent because of the increasing complexity of cases – although overall activity, measured by equipment issued, was 23 per cent below plan. There were also 461 repairs waiting to be made and a system of pre-planned maintenance has yet to be implemented.

The contract performance was criticised by members of the county council’s health overview and scrutiny committee in July when members called for the CCGs to consider quitting the contract – which the CCGs warn would take at least 12 months and could lead to experienced staff leaving.

Now the CCGs’ governing bodies are being asked to find:

  • £514,000 to cover an inherited caseload, additional therapists and van leasing – this has been agreed under delegated powers;
  • £276,000 cash advance for stock which was used in the early months of the contract – this “start up” stock was not received from the previous provider, as Millbrook expected;
  • An estimated £1.1m – split between payments in December 2018 and in the 2019-20 financial year – to cover the additional cost pressure associated with the increased complexity of referrals;
  • £64,000 for each remaining year of the contract to cover the costs of a band 8a manager to support the contract and reduce risks around it;
  • Potentially another £484,000 to meet cost pressures in the final three years of the contract, from April 2019.

In a report prepared for Kent County Councils’ health overview and scrutiny committee, the lead commissioner, Thanet CCG, revealed that patient groups are also concerned about the treatment of wheelchair users and a lack of sensitivity to people’s dignity.  

The CCG said it “accepts there are lessons from this experience… a key concern has been the time it has taken commissioners to identify the underlying challenges with this service and to put plans into play to resolve these.” It is now setting up a service user improvement group which will work with the CCG and Millbrook to deliver the improvement plan.

In a joint statement, the CCGs and Millbrook said 10 new full time members of staff had been recruited, more equipment had been ordered and the waiting list for repairs had been substantially reduced. In addition, all employees of the wheelchair service and staff from CCGs who worked with the service would undertake disability equality training. 

“Wheelchair users in Kent and Medway and their families remain at the heart of our service improvements, and it is our aspiration to ensure they get an excellent service,” they said.