Criticism of G4S grows after patient transport service receives over 1,500 complaints in first year
PUBLISHED: 06:00 15 September 2017
The multinational company won the six-year £90m contract last summer but has performed poorly ever since
Patients across the county have lodged a staggering 1,774 complaints against G4S’ patient transport service in just over a year, it has emerged.
The healthcare services arm of the multinational security company won a six-year £90m contract to provide non-emergency transport last summer but the service has been mired in controversy ever since.
Eyebrows were raised when health bosses shook hands on a deal with G4S, which had been criticised for the service it provided at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, and was also stripped of its contract to run the Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester, following allegations of abuse.
Nevertheless, it was chosen as the preferred company by West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group to provide free travel for people whose medical condition prevents them getting to and from hospital by other means, after previous supplier NSL withdrew a bid to continue running the service after coming under intense criticism.
Figures released in a report by the CCG, which runs the contract, are due to be discussed by Kent County Council’s Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee next week, and reveal the alarming extent of the complaints received - most of which, it claims, are regarding timeliness of journeys for outpatient appointments.
The report presented to councillors shows G4S received a massive 232 complaints in its first month of operating the service, in July 2016.
While the number of complaints did not reach that level again in any of the subsequent 12 months, only three times were there fewer than 100 lodged in a single month.
Health bosses note that the most recent figures, from July 2017, show there were 115 complaints, which it describes as “a small improvement” on May and June when there were 141 and 146 respectively.
On average, G4S receives around 136 complaints per month, something which Tunbridge Wells MP and business secretary Greg Clark insists isn’t anywhere near good enough.
He said: “When G4S took over the contract for patient transport services last year we were promised a better service but this hasn’t happened.
“The patients that use this service are often very unwell and need regular medical appointments – it is crucial to their health that they can rely on getting to these. The number of complaints that G4S has received is alarming.
“I have called a meeting with G4S and West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group to find out how they have got into this mess and, more importantly, how they are going to sort it out.”
The company has also been issued with an official warning by health chiefs over the service it has provided over the past year, meaning it could be in line for a financial penalty if performance does not noticably improve.
The report by the CCG noted: “A contract performance notice was issued in July 2017 regarding the provider’s complaints process.
“The CCG are concerned about the unprecedented levels of complaints regarding the service and the way in which G4S are handling and responding to complaints.
“The commissioners sought urgent action to rectify the common themes emerging from complaints and to improve the complaints process so that complaints are managed in a timely, professional manner.”
It added that a remedial action plan has been drawn up and will address issues including a review of G4S’ complaints policy, a review of the complaints process as a whole, improving reporting and reponse times and identifying themes and learning.
Teresa Murray is deputy leader of the Labour group on Medway Council and has long voiced concerns over the quality of service provided by G4S.
She told us she’d prefer to see smaller, local firms win contracts rather than multinational companies.
“I opposed it being given the contract in the first place,” she said.
“It was given 18 months ago when NSL failed to meet the terms of the contract but they already had a bad reputation, they’d just lost the contract at the secure training centre.
“Are we really happy that they took another publicly-funded contract? The level of contract monitoring is poor.
“When it comes to these contracts, why does it always have to be one of these big companies? Why not use local firms who know the area and know the hospitals and would do a much better job?
“They managed to take the contract off NSL when everything went so badly wrong but quite often what happens is we end up paying for these mistakes. You get a great big bill and the public purse pays twice.”
A so-called masterplan for health services across Kent and Medway, known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plan, is currently being drawn up and is set to go out to public consultation next year.
In it, health chiefs are outlining proposals to allow people to be treated nearer their own homes to help reduce the strain on hospital services, which in some areas of the county have been described as at breaking point.
Cllr Murray added: “The plan sounds good in principle but are G4S going to play ball? It’s not as if the CCG didn’t know this was coming down the track.
“They say they didn’t know how frail patients would be, that they didn’t have enough wheelchairs, and that’s unacceptable.”
Russell Hobbs, managing director of Transport Services at G4S, said: “We are resolutely committed to patient care and delivering a good service to all those who use our non-emergency patient transport service.
“When the level of service provided is not good enough, we always apologise, deal with any issues and seek to improve the service.
“We are improving the way we deal with complaints and have put in processes to ensure we monitor journeys, have dedicated points of contact and proactively manage future appointments where we aware there has been a problem.”