Patient transport should be run by NHS

UNISON is calling for urgent action to regulate private patient transport services in England following a BBC investigation into the service run by a private ambulance operator at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

The union worked closely with the BBC in the making of the programme that found shortcomings in staff vetting and training.

The private transport company failed to check any qualifications or carry out a criminal records check when they employed an undercover BBC researcher at the firm.

“It’s a disgrace that private companies are being allowed to go into the homes of sick and vulnerable patients, without being regulated or monitored,” said head of health Karen Jennings.

“Patients are not parcels to be picked up and dropped off and patient transport is more than a taxi service,” she added.

Anyone responsible for taking sick, elderly or injured people to and from hospital needed to have sound medical knowledge, patient handling training and advanced driving skills, said Ms Jennings.

Until recently, all travel for patients was provided and regularly monitored by NHS ambulance trusts. But private companies now provide around 20% of patient transport services – a figure that is set to rise as commissioning trusts, desperate to cut costs and save money, hand services over to private companies.

“Patients and their relatives need to feel they are in safe hands, but without proper regulation, no one really knows who is knocking on their door,” added Ms Jennings.

“It would be better for all concerned if patient transport services remained the responsibility of ambulance trusts.”

Birmingham Women’s Hospital said it was suspending the contract with the private operator immediately, while it investigated the allegations. But the city’s children’s hospital, which has a contract with the same company, is continuing to use the firm while it looks into the claims.