AMBULANCE drivers have slammed the new providers of non-emergency patient transport in Sussex, saying that key software does not work properly and that the company is “out of its depth.”

Drivers exclusively told The Argus that since being transferred from the South East Coast Ambulance Service to Hampshire-based firm Coperforma, they are picking up fewer patients and letting down too many people.

The drivers, who asked not to be named, revealed their frustrations about the number of patients being left waiting since the company took over the service for transporting patients to hospital and other appointments.

Driver A, who has 15 years’ experience, said: “Coperforma are a total shower. They’re out of their depth. I think it’s because they’ve never moved patients in these quantities anywhere before.

His colleague [B] said: “When I was a SECAmb driver we would transport 18 patients a day, now it’s four or five. Yesterday we only did two.”

Driver B explained that the Coperforma system dynamically allocates one ambulance team - of two staff members and one vehicle - for each patient journey. The previous system created pre-planned routes along which a team might pick up five or six people to take them to the same hospital.

Driver C said: “We are late all the time but we’re doing our best.”

All seven drivers interviewed by The Argus are former SECAmb employees who were transferred to private ambulance firm Thames Ambulance Service Ltd when the contract changed hands on April 1.

Thames are being subcontracted by Coperforma to provide patient transport. There is no suggestion that the missed pickups, lengthy delays and mistakes of the last two weeks have been caused by Thames.

The Coperforma system works on a mobile phone app which drivers say has many shortcomings. At Thames’ rural depot near Sheffield Park, outside Uckfield, poor mobile phone reception means the app does not work at all.

Driver D said: “Everybody thought that this was an accident waiting to happen. We could see it was going to be chaos. And the app doesn’t work”

Driver E said: “We don’t get any signal here. If we want to get jobs through to our phones we have to leave the depot and walk down the road with our phones in the air.”

She and her colleague Driver F explained that the app does not provide details of which hospital department to go to - only the road on which the hospital is sited - and said she and colleagues had been told by Coperforma that the app was based on taxi software.

Driver F added that the system does not allow drivers to “abort” jobs if patients are not ready or do not wish to travel. This results in drivers having to call Coperforma, where they are often left on hold for 30 minutes before they can get through to operators and be redeployed.

Driver F added that committed staff are trying to circumvent systemic problems.

She said: “It’s only because there are the staff in the call centre who really care about the patients like we do that this is working at all. People in control have given us their personal mobile numbers so we can get through.”

Earlier this week a Coperforma spokeswoman told The Argus the firm was “looking into” claims that there were problems with app functionality in rural Sussex.

Driver G acknowledged that after a calamitous handover things were improving, but said: “It’s getting better but too slowly, it should be getting much better, faster.”


TWO weeks after the catastrophic handover day on which hundreds of patients missed appointments and thousands of phone calls swamped Coperforma’s phone lines, patients are still being let down.

One ambulance driver told The Argus: “It’s only because there are staff in the call centre who really care about the patients, like we do, that this is working at all. People in control have given us their personal mobile numbers so we can get through.”

Anecdotal reports suggest the situation is improving but even the extra efforts of caring staff have not succeeded in eradicating delays, mistakes, upset and expense for vulnerable, sick people.

Just two days ago, a 70-year-old woman who has recently had her leg amputated was left waiting at hospital for over six hours.

Doreen Smith, from Southwick, had finished her consultation for a prosthetic leg and was ready to leave the hospital at 1pm but the ambulance did not arrive until 7.30pm.

She spoke to an Argus reporter as she waited, saying: “I am really tired, really stressed. I need to take all my medications.

“Everyone here has been as nice as they can be, really kind, but it does not alter the fact. Then you have got the worry of all the other appointments.”

Her daughter told The Argus that when the crew arrived they said they simply were not getting the calls through to their app in the car.

On Wednesday, a 64-year-old woman from Shoreham with severe health problems was due to have a CT scan to confirm a tentative cancer diagnosis and commence treatment. But Coperforma, which is based in Hampshire, failed to send an appropriate vehicle to her home, meaning the scan and potentially life-saving treatment, were delayed.

Last Friday, a 90-year-old woman took matters into her own hands and paid £20 for a taxi home from hospital after being warned she could face a six-hour wait.

Gladys Baker said: “After my appointment I asked why I couldn’t be taken home and they said they had to wait for a phone call and warned I could be sitting there until 6pm.

“I said ‘well I’m not waiting till then’ and I asked them to take me down to the main entrance where I paid a taxi driver £20 to get home.”

Yesterday, 66-year-old Roger Boniface, from Shoreham, was relieved when his ambulance arrived at 8am to take him to his regular dialysis appointment, having been let down previously. Last week, transport booked for 7am did not arrive until 11.40am and Mr Boniface missed an appointment with his consultant.

He said: “It was very difficult in the morning because we had no idea when or if an ambulance was going to turn up.

“We tried contacting the company but it took a long time to get through. When we did they said they would sort something out but it still took a long time. It was very frustrating and not acceptable. I wasn’t the only one either. A patient from Hastings came in at about 7.15pm when I was waiting to go home and she had been told to expect an ambulance at noon. I just hope they manage to sort it out.”

Having completed his treatment yesterday at 5pm and informed Coperforma, Mr Boniface was still kept waiting for around two hours before being picked up.

And Edwin Walker, 75, was failed by Coperforma last week when it sent an unsuitable vehicle which could not transport him to the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath for a consultation over a missing kneecap which has rendered him housebound. On Wednesday, his ambulance failed to arrive altogether. His wife Linda said: “I couldn’t believe it’s just happened all over again.”

Staff at Brighton's Royal Sussex County Hospital have had to arrange for private vehicles to transport patients home and yesterday the NHS trust acknowledged that Coperforma’s failings were causing knock-on delays which affected other patients as well.

A spokesman for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “The ongoing issues around the changeover in the provision of our Patient Transport Service has, and continues to have, repercussions for many of our services, including hindering our ability to get patients home from the hospital.”

Late yesterday afternoon a spokeswoman for the Clinical Commissioning Group informed The Argus Coperforma is now stationing “service delivery teams” and extra IT staff in hospitals to help improve performance and manage problems.

The CCG also said it would be releasing performance data on missed and delayed journeys early next week.

It is surely to be hoped that these steps bring dramatic improvements and reassuring transparency to a fiasco which has blighted the welfare of some of Sussex’s most vulnerable hospital patients for more than two weeks now.