Hailed as ‘another triumph of public-private partnership’, it was announced that NHS ambulance services are to be outsourced to a joint venture initiative between Arriva Bus and NextDay Couriers. Under the new 999ArrivaNextDay service, members of the public requiring hospitalisation will either be picked up from a bus stop or, if unable to make that journey due to their injuries, be collected by courier during the ‘Morning’ (8am to 1pm) or ‘Afternoon’ (1pm to 6pm) for next day delivery.
The announcement of the plans was met with outrage from consumer groups, as it became clear that rather than invest in additional resources, 999ArrivaNextDay is to use spare capacity in their existing schedules to provide emergency services, but the two companies were quick to allay public concerns and insisted their normal transport and parcel delivery activities would not be adversely affected.
999ArrivaNextDay also insisted they would be fully prepared to deal with the new demands of providing ‘world-class paramedic response’, with priority seating provided on-board and a ‘comprehensive’ first aid kit fitted at all bus stops. However a plan to equip bus shelters with defibrillators for reviving cardiac patients has been dropped after trial kits were principally used by school bullies to get sweets and dinner money from Year 7 pupils.
Leaflets are to be distributed to homes across the UK explaining the changes that will be involved in the new service. At the first sign of an illness that may require hospitalisation families of patients are being instructed to take them to the nearest bus-stop, already in their pyjamas and with personal hygiene supplies, and to do so outside the rush hour where possible. Carriage may also be refused if the patient does not have the correct change for the fare. For home collection, pick-ups are ideally to be booked at least 24 hours ahead, and notification must be given if the patient is unlikely to fit on the back of a 200cc motorbike.
The project has drawn fierce criticism from health sector unions, but NHS bosses have insisted that pilot schemes have proven successful, with patients quickly adapting a ‘traditionally stoical British’ attitude to the new system. ‘It was what you’d expect really,’ commented Jim Mitchell, a trial patient, from his intensive care bed in the St Bart’s Hospital cardiac unit, ‘I waited an hour and a half at the bus stop after my heart attack last Tuesday, and then three ambulances turned up at once…’
17th April 2009