Epsom and St Helier hospitals’ trust is trying to quickly replace its ageing fleet of patient transport ambulances following problems with private providers.

After G4S stopped operating their non-emergency service for Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs CCGs last year, Ambulance Transfers Limited (ATL) was hired as a ‘step-in’.

But a legal challenge during the procurement process caused delays to awarding a new contract before the NHS trust decided to bring it all in-house.

Epsom and St Helier “only had six weeks” to deliver the service, with a shortfall of 40 staff, but is now replacing its 64-strong fleet from this April onwards with new ambulances.

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At a Sutton Council scrutiny committee meeting, chief executive Daniel Elkeles said: “The service we're providing isn't just for our patients, it's for everybody who needs ambulance transport that is not an emergency in our catchment.

“It's bigger than just Epsom and St Helier [hospitals].

“To give you a scale of how big it is, we have 64 ambulances needed to provide the service and it has 130 members of staff. This is quite a big enterprise.

“There were lots of performance issues with ATL too so we made the decision as a trust to say, 'This isn't working. We're going to bring this in-house and do it ourselves'.

“We're just going out in the market to put out a five-year lease for 64 new ambulances so that, by the time we get to the spring, it'll all be badged as 'Epsom and St Helier' rather than currently 'Essex Ambulances'.

“We're hoping to actually get the patient transport service to be something we can be proud of, as opposed to something which actually needs quite a lot of TLC still.”

Surrey Comet:

Dan Elkeles

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The catchment area for the service is large, transporting patients in parts as far as Sussex and Hampshire depending on where they are being admitted or discharged.

According to a report sent to the scrutiny committee, the service is facing several challenges and “at times is not meeting the service specification required”.

Some of the problems include 20 vacancies for ambulance support staff roles, a high number of breakdowns and off-road days, as well as increased demand.

Another was that staff were being paid the National Minimum Wage, however, the trust is looking to pay staff the London Living Wage this year.

Though Mr Elkeles believes there are benefits to Epsom and St Helier providing the service in-house, adding: “I think our experience of the private sector market in picking transport has been pretty poor.

“That the people in it have not delivered the standard of service that we expected.

“Whilst it isn't core business to the hospital, I actually think we're going to do it better than they were doing it.

“If we can demonstrate that, in the end, we can do it better, then actually I can't see why we can't provide it for a bigger geography than our catchment.”

The scrutiny committee meeting was held on February 6.