DESPITE more than £2million of investment into bespoke ambulances, new patient transport provider Arriva is still struggling to keep up with demand.
Arriva Transport Solutions took over non-emergency patient journeys from South West Ambulance Service in December after a tendering process.
Since then, Arriva has been beset with early ‘teething problems’. Patients, many of them elderly, have been left waiting for hours to be taken home from hospital appointments.
Others in need of kidney dialysis, blood transfusions or cancer treatment have not been collected at all.
The latest complaint has come from pensioner Daphne Blake from Longlevens, who had to sit in a wheelchair for more than five hours at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital waiting to be taken home after a physiotherapy session.
Daphne, 71, said: “The physio called Arriva at around 10.30am to say that I was ready for collection but it wasn’t until 4.10pm that they arrived.
“I don’t mind waiting a couple of hours but that is just unacceptable. I needed treatment for my legs.
“There were lots of excuses when we chased them to find out where they were. I was told they were on their way, but had to wait more than five hours.
“They sent a taxi for me, but I’m in a wheelchair so I couldn’t use it.
“I was sat in the wheelchair for hours waiting to be collected. The hospital even considered giving me a bed for the night.
“I was livid. The old service was occasionally late, but never this long.
“There was no apology from Arriva, but I was given some sandwiches at lunchtime.
“I’m 78 and need treatment once a week. I’ve had Arriva before and if they can’t collect me, they send a taxi.
“They should not have taken on the service if they can’t cope with demand.”
Arriva bosses insists the firm did its homework before taking on the service, despite delaying its launch by two months. It has spent an extra £200,000 in upgrading technology to help tighten up the service.
An unexpected high volume of calls, and drivers not being aware of the travel times from rural parts of Gloucestershire, have been blamed on continuing delays. The firm employs more than 1,000 staff in the sector nationally and operates a 24 hour seven days a week county service.
Ed Potter, head of the South West at Arriva Transport Solutions, said: “Since the start of the contract, we continue to see significant improvements in all aspects of the service.
“This includes patients arriving at and departing from hospital appointments within the timescales set by the contract. We are committed to ensuring that these improvements continue.
“We are very sorry to hear about Mrs Blake’s delay returning home on Wednesday. Any delay of this nature is unacceptable and we would like to offer our sincere apologies to Mrs Blake.
“As a provider of non-emergency patient transport, our patients often have complex and individual needs, and sometimes this means that delays occur if the information given at the time of booking is not accurate.
“We continue to work together with our NHS partners to support the change in booking process.
“Our aim remains to ensure that patients are transported in a timely manner and when a delay occurs we try to work with our partners to keep patients informed and minimise any distress or inconvenience this may cause.”