Sick patients had appointments cancelled by the ambulance service because of a lack of vehicles, according to claims made by a union representative to an NHS boss.

An email from April 2018 to the then chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, Robert Morton, from a union rep claimed that one worker was told to not take a cancer patient to Peterborough hospital for treatment because there was not a suitable vehicle to take her back home after the appointment.

He refused and took her to hospital.

The EEAST has the contract to run non-emergency Patient Transport Services (PTS) in Cambridgeshire for patients who would not be able to get to hospital otherwise, but there have been problems with the contract.

The letter from union rep said that they were aware of other examples in Cambridgeshire where patients had appointments cancelled because control room told drivers they did not have enough resources.

The rep wrote: "I cannot believe that a manager would seriously think it appropriate or justifiable to send a cancer patient in pain and distress back home."

They added they had their own case where a patient's transport to get treatment for a brain injury was cancelled.

"The patient's wife was extremely angry as she said that she had travelled 20 miles to escort him and that this was the fourth time he had appointments cancelled," he wrote.

"These are very sick patients and Control seems to be indifferent to it. We on the road have to face these patients and try and explain why they cannot have their treatment."

An ambulance spokesman said areas of improvement had been identified in PTS and action taken since the email was sent.

They said: "Our interim chief executive, Dorothy Hosein, identified timeliness of patient transport as a priority focusing on those patients where their care related to cancer, renal dialysis or at the end of their life."

You may also want to watch:

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: "The CCG carefully monitors performance, and since the system-wide plan was put in place there has been an improvement in performance."

Problems have also been reported with the PTS in Suffolk where it is run by a private provider called E-zec.

-Key targets missed

By the time the leaked email was sent, the Patient Transport Service (PTS) in Cambridgeshire had been under fire for more than a year.

In January 2017 a member of the Hinchingbrooke Hospital board labelled it "not fit for purpose".

A year later the director of service delivery at the East of England Ambulance Service, Kevin Brown, wrote to staff saying he was "increasingly concerned by the disproportionate number of complaints from patients hospitals and our staff about the way the contract is performing".

He wrote that plans already set out for improvement did not give him assurances.

Mr Brown apologised to staff and said action would now be put in place to improve. A turnaround manager was appointed.

But the latest performance figures show key targets are still being missed including departure and arrival times.

A report from inspectors published in July this year said staff said "they did not believe their opinions mattered to senior leaders within PTS."

-Please contact our investigations editor Tom Bristow at tom.bristow@archant.co.uk if this has affected you.