EXCLUSIVE: 'Somebody could die' warns Sheffield kidney dialysis patient as delays rock new private ambulance provider
Kidney dialysis users in Sheffield and South Yorkshire are waiting up to 'seven hours' to be taken to their appointments and if transport delays are not sorted - 'somebody could die', a patient has warned.
Ian Hill, from Stannington, requires kidney dialysis three times a week at the Northern General and like all other patients undergoing this treatment, he needs transporting to and from hospital on a regular basis.
The transport contract went out to re-tender and was secured by Doncaster firm Premier Care Trust, taking over from City Taxis on October 1.
But the service has been heavily criticised for cars and specialist ambulances turning up hours after they were supposed to leading to patients having less time on dialysis machines and causing stress for hospital staff.
And Doncaster NHS Clinincal Commissing Group - the lead party on the contract tender - has also come under fire for awarding the work to the provider by Sheffield taxi bosses who say the private ambulance company has 'failed in its' obligation on patient safety'.
The service ferries around 800 people from their homes across South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire to different kidney dialysis centres in the region.
Ian said the problems started on Monday October 2. Kidney dialysis patients have to be ready an hour before - for him, his appointment is at 830am.
But the 57-year-old retired postal worker ended up going in his own car, something which he shouldn't do.
Wednesday came around he decided against taking a risk by driving himself to the hospital. A car turned up for him at 10.10am.
For his return journey, Ian said patients shouldn't be waiting around for more than 30 minutes in reception for a car but a driver didn't turn up for an hour an a half.
On Friday, they again arrived over two-and-a-half hours late.
Further delays occurred on Monday, October 9 and the following Wednesday, the driver turned up over four-and-a-half hours late.
"It's been a complete nightmare. This could start having a huge knock on effect for my health and many others," he said.
"If this service carries on the way it is, drivers turning up seven late from what I'm told, people having to cut down on their times on the machines - heaven forbid, there could be a fatality. That's how serious it's become.
"I'm turning up late through no fault of my own and some days I'm having to cut down on the time I'm on the machines. Over the 10 days, I've lost two-and-a-half hours of dialysis. That could, in theory, put me in hospital with a build up of fluid around the lungs.
"I'm not the only one who has problems with this. Other patients are really worried, so are their family members and staff."
Ian, who suffered from blood poisoning in 2007 which prompted him to start having the treatment, said the delays are causing no end of stress for himself and dozens of patients he's spoken to about this.
"One Wednesday when I was ready to go home, the driver finally arrived and took a guy in a wheelchair I had travelled to the hospital with in first - 15 minutes later, he had to be wheeled out again because the driver didn't have any clamps for his chair.
"This is just basic stuff and it's the tip of the iceberg on what's been a complete shambolic service ever since it changed hands."
Ian said the comparison in service patients receive now is 'leagues apart'.
He admitted he was picked up on time on Friday just past but that down to the fact he 'kicked up a fuss' to bosses and there was 'no way he would be left behind'.
Hospital staff are said to be 'really stressed' as patients arriving late wreck the flow and plans they put in place that morning.
"With City it really was a first class service, I had the same driver everyday, a brilliant kid who would turn up on time and be there at the hospital when he needed to be to take me home.
"This service we have now isn't a service, it's a complete joke, it's shambolic.
"The staff at the hospital, who are brilliant as well, are really really stressed about all this. They don't know when patients are coming in - they can't schedule their breaks - they're having to work overtime at a moments notice."
Premier Care Direct is owned by Thames Ambulance Service Ltd and the company has come under fire in other parts of the country, namely Leceister and Norwich for similar problems.
Lee Ward, chairman of ALPHA who represents taxi firms and drivers, said: "The taxi and private hire trade in Sheffield has been struck a major blow by a contract to transport dialysis patients for treatment being awarded to a Private Ambulance Service, Premier Care Trust.
"For over six years this contract was serviced by the drivers who all underwent training in both First Aid and Passenger Assistance, building a rapport with the patients, even becoming family friends.
"When the contract came up for tender it was awarded to a company that has failed miserably in servicing these patients with untold delays in transportation and dialysis treatment, treatment that is essential and time critical for the patients. Disruption to this treatment is in fact a life-threatening situation that they should never be put in.
"My question from the trade is how can a tender be awarded to a company who fail in its obligations, and how long do the patients be put in danger before the contract is re-assessed if not re-assigned?
"Surely the commissioners who awarded the contract have done so under information that was false or misleading and should be asking searching questions of Premier Care Direct on the matter."
Sue Flintham, Regional Director at PCD said: "Premier Care Direct commenced the service on 1st October in South Yorkshire and has seen some challenges in its mobilisation phase of the contract.
"We are all working very hard to address these matters, with our patients at the forefront of our minds as we work to progress the service over the coming weeks to one that delivers a service centred on timeliness and quality that healthcare professionals and patients expect. The startup of the service has seen us work through expected challenges in this phase, which are: planning, resource allocation and driver-route familiarisation, which we are confident we are resolving at a reasonable pace.
"The unexpected challenge PCD had faced was that we did not receive accurate information at the point of the transfer of patient data. This created significant software problems which we have been working very closely with our supplier to resolve. This meant that the team had to engage in a rigorous data cleanse-and-check exercise on each individual patient record to ensure every appointment time and location was fit for appropriate usage on our systems, impacting service delivery. Data validation remains an ongoing process until we are satisfied that it is accurate.
"The first four weeks are often the most challenging phase of a patient transport service, and the co-operation we have had with hospital professionals and patients has been tremendous. PCD would like to thank all for their patience; the team are working very hard to build a better service that meets expected standards. We are listening to all feedback we’ve received so far and take any concerns seriously, helping us to further tailor the service to specific patient needs.
"We would like to apologise to those patients who have been affected due to late transport, and note that we commit ourselves to putting things right.”