THE controversial company which has been struggling to provide patient transport in Sussex is set to be stripped of its contract today, The Argus understands.

Coperforma, the firm behind seven months of chaos for patients, ambulance drivers and subcontractors is to be removed from its role in a managed transition due to last four to six months.

It is believed non-emergency patient transport services will instead by provided by the NHS via the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS).

The Argus has uncovered a string of stories leading up to the demise of the much-criticised contract, including news that Coperforma was the only firm to bid for the contract, that its smartphone app did not work at its ambulance depots, that subcontractors were operating without a licence from the health regulator and that Parliament was misled over whether the NHS stepped in to stop unlicensed ambulances operating.

Today it is due to be announced that by April 1 of next year the service will transfer into the hands of SCAS which currently provides both 999 and non-emergency ambulance services in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.

We understand that Sussex’s emergency ambulance firm, Secamb, will not oppose the move and has offered logistical support.

Unlike the Coperforma business model SCAS will not operate a “managed service provider” but will provide both call handling and vehicle journeys.

Staff connected with the service are due to be briefed at 10.30am today with a formal announcement coming at lunchtime, The Argus.

Coperforma was awarded the £63 million four-year contract by all seven Sussex clinical commissioning groups, led on this matter by High Weald Lewes and Havens CCG whose chief officer Wendy Carberry apologised to patients for the poor service in April but in recent weeks has repeatedly refused requests to speak to this newspaper.

Over the first days of the contract thousands of patients were left uncollected, or left waiting for five hours or more in hospital waiting rooms.

Having been brought in to improve on performance rates of 80 per cent or more delivered by predecessor organisation Secamb, within the first weeks as few as two in ten patients were being delivered within time windows set by the NHS.

A remedial plan was introduced and service improved but The Argus has continued to hear from patients whose appointments for cancer, dialysis or surgical treatments have had to be put back because Coperforma’s failures have led them to miss appointments or consultations.

In September the CCG had to step in to pay former NHS ambulance drivers who were owed up to seven weeks' wages after a Coperforma subcontractor, Docklands Medical Service, ceased to pay its staff.


PATIENTS have missed appointments. Operations have been put back. Drivers have gone unpaid. Targets have been missed and questions have gone unanswered.

In the meantime companies have gone into administration, the regulator has been circumvented and Parliament has been misled.

This is the legacy of Coperforma Ltd, which today loses its seven-month battle against the growing clamour of voices – led by this newspaper – for it to be stripped of its contract to transport the sick and vulnerable of Sussex to and from their hospital appointments.

From day one, patient transport has been a shambles and an alphabet soup of agencies and regulators can share some of the blame for the chaos which has engulfed the service since April 1.

There is the Patient Transport Bureau (PTB), the NHS body which previously managed most patient transport call handling, whom Coperforma blamed for not handing over enough patient data in advance of April 1.

That – according to says Coperforma – was in largely part responsible for the more than 10,000 appointments which its system says it missed in the first month.

Again and again this newspaper received – and relayed – the stories of patients who waited and waited for ambulances which never appeared. Of elderly hospital-goers forced to wait for five hours in wards to be picked up. Of hospitals which had to pay for taxis to help people get home, just so that beds could be freed up.

Then there are the seven clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) which awarded the contract, led by High Weald Lewes and Havens and its chief officer Wendy Carberry.

They were criticised by an independent report in September for not having investigated Coperforma’s claim to be prepared for the handover.

Last month The Argus revealed that Docklands Medical Services Ltd (DMS) operated for three months this summer as a subcontractor of Coperforma’s without being registered with the regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC). As a result the CQC is investigating whether the company broke the law.

A further consequence of the fragmentation of the system was uncovered by this newspaper when we revealed that the CQC did not possess a list of Coperforma’s other subcontractors, of which we understand there are more than 20.

Neither Coperforma nor the CCG would release the list to The Argus in order for our journalists to confirm if any others were operating without a licence.

On Monday of last week we revealed that in a written Parliamentary answer on the matter, health minister Philip Dunne had told Caroline Lucas that the CCG had instructed Coperforma to cease using DMS.

However, neither Coperforma nor the CCG could substantiate Mr Dunne’s story when we asked them.

And as late as last night, the CCG had to step in at last-minute talks with Coperforma subcontractor Thames Ambulance Services.

A growing number of voices, including Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, have insisted that the contract be put back into public hands and under a single roof, arguing that the fragmentation of the system as well as the provider’s inadequacies have put patients at risk.

They will no doubt greet today’s news with relief. But Sussex patients still have several months to go until Coperforma and their complex web of subsidiaries and commissioners are nothing but a painful memory.