NHS England has ordered a review into the cost of patient transport services and the way they are commissioned, following a string of market failures.
Simon Stevens last week told the Healthwatch annual conference in Birmingham that the probe, expected to last a year, would act on concerns raised by patients.
Clinical commissioning groups commission the bulk of non-emergency patient transport, with trusts sometimes organising extra capacity.
However, many CCGs have been criticised for choosing the cheapest bidder, sometimes leading to poor service.
In Sussex, a company given the county-wide PTS contract withdrew from the contract in 2016 and later collapsed, owing creditors over £11m, according to papers filed at Companies House.
In neighbouring Kent and Medway, commissioners were forced to put forward additional funding after demand was substantially different to that envisaged in the contract.
In Worcestershire, West Midlands Ambulance Service Foundation Trust – which is rated “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission – said it recently lost the non-emergency patient transport contract because it bid outside a financial cap. It added it felt the price demanded would affect the quality of the service.
Other concerns, such as failure of procurement, continue to affect the public transport landscape. In London, a transport company recently pulled a bid to supply Chelsea and Westminster FT over concerns the evaluation process was biased. The trust scrapped its procurement a month later.
‘Person-centred healthcare service’
A lead for the review has not yet been announced but NHSE said a governance board, involving a cross section of patient organisations, including Healthwatch England, Age Concern and Kidney Care UK, would oversee it.
Mr Stevens told the conference: “Attending hospital can be a worrying time for many patients which is why we want to make sure that their journey to and from appointments is as smooth as possible.
“Building on the NHS long-term plan’s commitment to creating a person-centred healthcare service this national review of non-emergency patient transport will listen and act on concerns raised by patients.”
A Healthwatch England survey of patients earlier this year rated travel a more important issue than choice of where to be treated and improved digital access to services.
Healthwatch England’s head of policy and public affairs Jacob Lant said the review will cover “all aspects of patient transport services,” including the transparency of local service data.
The “clever use” of publicly-available data, he added, could also improve other types of patient journey. For example, appointments could be timed around local bus schedules.
Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said: “Patients attending health and care services are not ‘packages to be delivered’, they are people with individual needs that must be considered as health services implement plans for care.
“If people are to truly be at the centre of how services are designed, then transport is a key element of how services and people’s care needs can be aligned and integrated at a local level.”
Charity director at Age UK Caroline Abrahams added: “There are pockets of good practice across the country which we can learn and build on but the reality is that the service needs a thorough overhaul and bringing up to date so this NHS review is exactly what’s needed.”