Hospital patients in Northamptonshire have been left waiting up to 12 hours by a private transport service that took over a contract from the NHS.
Staff of NSL Ltd said the delays are being caused by overworked control room staff, all of whom are now based in the West Midlands following the closure of a Northampton control room and who are relatively unfamiliar with Northamptonshire’s geography.
One staff member told the Chron he knew of jobs where night shift drivers had picked someone up at 3am when they had waited since 3pm.
He said: “Part of the issue is that the control room staff aren’t from Northamptonshire and don’t know how long journeys actually take here. One seriously thought Northampton was a borough of London.
He added: “A new computer system is supposed to pick up the slack, but it can’t cope with simple things such as factoring in congestion or discharge delays at the hospital.
“As a result, they stack up the appointments and the drivers have no chance of getting there. The night shift regularly end up mopping up the day jobs.
“I feel sorry for the families and patients.”
NSL undercut East Midlands Ambulance Service when it took over the patient transport service for Northamptonshire from them in July 2012.
But the Chron reported in March last year that NSL was trying to alter its contract with the NHS as, two years in, it considered the activity levels “unsustainable.”
It is now understood that seven control staff based at Round Spinney Industrial Estate, Northampton, lost their jobs or were forced to change roles with less than a week’s notice at the beginning of June.
NSL said yesterday that it had 11 staff in its West Midlands control and despatch centre who are responsible for Northamptonshire, although it is understood they also cover several other counties. Staff in Shewsbury also provide support, it said.
On the redundancies, NSL spokeswoman, Afrika Morris said: “We always seek to minimise the impact of any restructuring on our employees. However, the NHS is facing tough financial challenges and the high service demand continues to have a knock on effect on NSL transport services. This meant we had to implement a new centralised communications system to ensure journeys are allocated to the best next available resource.
On the delays, she said: “We are aware of transport delays and we will be working closely with [NHS Nene} to address these.
“However, the service has seen considerable improvements over the past months and we are pleased to say that NSL has not incurred any fines.”