Non-emergency patient transport services (NEPTS) for Cambridgeshire have been described as “not fit for purpose” by a member of the Hinchingbrooke Hospital board.

A board meeting on January 26 heard the service, taken over by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) last September, has been issued with an improvement notice and could face future financial penalties.

The “poor” service has attracted a large number of complaints, resulting in delayed patient discharges and transfers, and Hinchingbrooke has been forced to pay for private ambulances, incurring extra cost.

A Hinchingbrooke quality and safety committee report stated: “Early indications are that the transport provision with the new contract is poor, impacting on patient flow, delayed discharges and clinical transfers.”

Representatives from all three acute trusts in Cambridgeshire, have met with the ambulance service on two occasions in the last three months to discuss “continuing problems”.

The report also pointed out that Hinchingbrooke's budget for patient transport for the first year is £16,000, but is now likely to be in the region of £74,000.

The matter has now been passed to the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the body which awarded and oversees the contract, and it has formally issued an improvement notice to the EEAST.

Chris Welsh, a non-executive board member, told the meeting: “The service is not fit for purpose. It certainly does not match Hinchingbrooke's expectations and there is a question over whether it was ever right in the first place. Patients are being delayed and too much staff time is being taken up trying to sort out problems.”

Liz McEwan, head of NEPTS at EEAST, said: “The CCG requires us to develop a plan to improve performance against our agreed key performance indicators, and this is via the standard contractual process, referred to as a contract performance notice.

Regular meetings are held with Cambridgeshire's acute hospitals so that everyone can identify any issues and take corrective action where required, for instance where there are discharge waits or requests for journeys without adequate notice which is

not within the contract. This close contact allows us to investigate specific examples and implement changes to improve processes.”

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, said: “Following a public consultation and procurement process the contract for NEPTS was awarded to EEAST for a period of five years. The CCG has been working closely with the hospitals and the ambulance trust to help patients get discharged from hospital in a timely way.

“There are a number of issues which have affected the ambulance service's ability to deliver against the contract in its early months of operation, not least the higher than anticipated levels of activity in the health system. A joint remedial action plan has been developed and agreed. Both parties have agreed that if the standards are not

met within agreed timescales then a financial penalty may be issued as appropriate.”

The Hunts Post also contacted Cambridgeshire Healthwatch which said it had received complaints from people who had missed appointments due to problems with NEPTS, and in some cases the wrong type of transport had arrived or people were taken to the wrong destination for appointments.