North Herts patients kept on hold as private ambulance firm struggles to cope with demand

Private Ambulance Service Ltd is operating the patient transport service

Private Ambulance Service Ltd is operating the patient transport service - Credit: Archant

People trying to book ambulances to take them to medical appointments say they have been kept waiting in phone queues for up to two hours – after a new firm took over the transport system in East and North Hertfordshire.

The company, called Private Ambulance Service Ltd, was hired by NHS East and North Herts Clinical Commissioning Group to provide non-emergency transport to and from surgeries and hospitals earlier this year, after the previous company served notice on its contract.

The firm was hired on a one-year temporary basis, but during the first few weeks of operation, starting on March 4, the CCG admits there have been problems – including calls taking longer than usual because patients had to have their details added to the new system, and a short period in which future bookings could not be made during the handover period, leading to a backlog of ‘unmet demand’.

The CCG says healthcare staff were also blocking the booking system by using the call centre rather than the online booking system to book ambulances.

The Comet has received a series of calls from patients and irate care home staff reporting the problem.

One care home worker from Stevenage, who was trying to book transport for her residents, told the Comet: “I was getting to a minimum of 50th in the queue, and I phoned them 20 times every day at all hours of the day and night.

“It’s shocking as elderly people who are trying to book these appointments will be sitting there stressing themselves out.”

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She said she was kept hanging on for two hours when trying to book an appointment for her own father – and although things had improved by the time the Comet went to press, she said she was still being placed number 15 in the queue.

A CCG spokesman said measures have been put in place to try to sort out the problems.

He said: “There have been some problems in the first few days of the service going live.

“East and North Hertfordshire CCG staff have been working with Private Ambulance Service and East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust to ensure that these problems are dealt with promptly.

“The situation has already improved significantly, with waiting times for callers now significantly reduced. A number of highly-trained and experienced call-handlers are taking calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The new contract will continue to be monitored closely to ensure that patients receive a high-quality service.”

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