SATISFACTION with patient transport in Sussex is as high as it has ever been, but a watchdog thinks long-term problems persist.

David Liley of Brighton and Hove healthwatch praised the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) for its performance at a meeting of the Brighton and Hove health overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday night.

He said: “We’ve come a very long way from the dark days of Coperforma, almost total service failure.

“They’re better now in some ways than when Secamb had the contract.”

Secamb, the South East Coast Ambulance Service, was responsible for ferrying non-emergency patients to and from hospital up until April 2016.

At that time the terms of the contract were changed in a way which made Secamb ineligible.

At the same time Secamb said provision within the “financial envelope” offered was not possible.

A four-year contract was awarded to private company Coperforma but service was abysmal with patients left waiting for hours and drivers going unpaid.

The contract was given to SCAS after seven months.

On Wednesday Mr Liley said problems persisted in three areas – unreliable service especially on Saturdays; meeting mobility needs; and the provision of inconsistent pick up an drop-off arrangements.

Ian Thompson from SCAS reassured the meeting that his team was going from strength to strength, despite challenging booking arrangements at times.

He said: “Work has gone on to ensure that appointment times are correct, and that patients have dedicated drivers.

“The largest challenge is that on average over January 79 per cent of discharges or transfers were made on the day, giving SCAS no notice of the booking.

“The high amount of on-the-day bookings compromises the pre-planned discharges and transfers as there is a demand to achieve packages of care.

“Saturday remains a challenge as the on the day demand often exceeds supply, however there is no way to predict this volume as it is not constant.”

He said building work in and around the Royal Sussex County Hospital site had caused problems but that engagement from hospital staff had been good.

A meeting is scheduled with the project manager next week to agree the best drop-off and collection points as works continue.