BOROUGH health bosses have been “hoodwinked” by a private ambulance firm that falsely claimed £1.5m in performance bonuses, a Wigan watchdog has blasted.
Arriva, the company that provides Greater Manchester’s non-emergency patient transport, has paid back the ill-gotten gains to the region’s 12 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
But Sir Ian McCartney, chair of Wigan Healthwatch, said the firm’s dealings with the NHS were a “totally shocking revelation” that could have wider implications.
Arriva Transport Solutions Limited (ATSL) said a “disappointing” and “unacceptable” error in its performance level monitoring had caused the blunder. And the company has pulled out of the tendering process to renew the service contract, which is up next year.
Sir Ian said Healthwatch Wigan had identified last year that Arriva was providing a “poor service” for residents following a patient survey.
He told the Evening Post: “Large numbers of patients said they waited more than 90 minutes before they were taken home following their appointment; one third of borough residents reported waiting two hours or more. WWL Trust told us they paid £200k for private ambulances because of Arriva’s poor service.
“There are worrying signs of potential false dealings by Arriva. We have known for some time they have provided a poor service for many.
“Our report called on the service provider and the commissioners of this service to make improvements so that citizens receive the good quality, safe and worry-free service they are entitled to. Today’s announcement shows we have all been lied to and that the improvements have not taken place - it is totally unacceptable for the NHS to be hoodwinked like this.”
The former MP has called for the national Healthwatch body to investigate similar contracts between Arriva and NHS around the country.
Arriva took over the non-emergency ambulance service in GM by undercutting the North West Ambulance Service by £3.5m in 2013. The deal was criticised by MPs, including then shadow health secretary and borough MP Andy Burnham.
In August, the Evening Post highlighted the case of Lowton resident Mike Barnes who, after a string of tardy pick-ups, was left stranded at Liverpool Royal Hospital for three hours because of an apparent mix-up by Arriva staff. The firm apologised for the stress and inconvenience caused and for missing its performance target.
An ATSL statement said the firm had made a full apology over the over-stated performance bonuses. It added: “We immediately contacted the NHS to inform them of this error and launched an extensive investigation. We have returned the overpayment in full.
“Our focus is on ensuring residents receive the best possible service from us until the end of our contract.”
Amanda Doyle, Chief Clinical Officer for NHS Blackpool CCG, the lead on North West non-emergency transport provision said: “We are fully aware of the situation and our main priority now is securing improvements of the service provision in GM and consider how we do this going forward.”