Bus company Arriva will run part of Greater Manchester’s ambulance service from April this year.
The bus and train operator won the Patient Transport Service (PTS) contract last year after it was put out to tender by the NHS. From March 2013, Arriva will take over from the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) in providing non-emergency transport to and from hospitals.
There has been significant opposition to the decision, with over 14,000 people signing a petition against the move, which was handed to the Department of Health. Campaigners are concerned that Arriva will not meet the same standards that NWAS have in the past.
The petition reads: “We believe this is the first step towards the wholesale privatisation of our NHS and that we must campaign to stop it.”
Unison, the public service trade union, have been running the campaign and claim that Arriva won the bus contract because they undercut NWAS by £3.5m, but that they were scored lower than NWAS in terms of quality during the bidding process.
Liam Mayet, part of the University of Manchester’s Save Our NHS campaign, said: “The government has simply chosen price over quality in this instance.
“It is disgraceful to see what this government is doing to our NHS service. This is indicative of a wider policy of privatisation of services within our NHS.
“I am deeply concerned for patients in Manchester who rely on this service.”
The bus company will be transporting chemotherapy patients, disabled people and elderly, amongst others, who are too ill or vulnerable to use public transport. Around two million non-emergency journeys were made across the North-West by NWAS last year.
Allan Jude, Director of Ambulance Commissioning at NHS Blackpool, said: “It is important to understand that this is not the emergency blue light service and the staff are not front line ambulance staff and never attend 999 calls.
“Ambulance staff on the Arriva contract will be fully trained in basic first aid, life support and resuscitation techniques. The service will offer patients the quality service they need.”
Last year, the Arriva group was awarded a similar contract to provide non-urgent patient transport in the East Midlands. The firm have been running this service for Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire and Bassetlaw since July 2012.
Two Greater Manchester MPs condemned the award of the PTS contract to Arriva. Graham Stringer and Paul Goggins, MPs for Wythenshawe and Sale East respectively, submitted an Early Day Motion to the House of Commons, saying they were “appalled” at the decision.
The Motion noted that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected Arriva’s ambulance transport service in Leicestershire and found it was not meeting standards in staffing, cleanliness, infection control, safeguarding people who use services from abuse, care and welfare of people who use services and assessing and monitoring service provision.
The CQC report also discovered that staff were being employed before Criminal Records Bureau checks had taken place and that ambulances had been late in collecting patients.
Arriva were unable for comment at the time of writing.