AMBULANCE staff in Worcestershire are fearful for the future of their jobs after the contract for non-emergency patient transport was awarded to a private firm.

Private company E-Zec Medical Transport will take over management of the county's non-emergency ambulances from April 2020, marking an end to West Midlands Ambulance Service's 30 years running the service.

The non-emergency ambulances, which are white as opposed to yellow, take patients from their homes to hospitals and treatment centres for consultations, treatments and procedures, and are based at stations in Kidderminster's Stourport Road, the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bromsgrove, and one near Worcester.

West Midlands Ambulance Service says it lost out because it "refused to compromise on patient safety", and said the news has had staff in tears.

Non-emergency service operations delivery director Michelle Brotherton said: “Commissioners set out how much they felt the contract should be worth. However, given our extensive experience of running services like this we didn’t feel that it was possible to run the contract for that amount as it would have affected the quality of care for patients and ultimately their safety.

“We acknowledge that our bid fell outside the financial envelope set by the Commissioners, but we are simply not prepared to put patient care at risk.

Kidderminster Shuttle:

"The scoring we have had back from commissioners shows that from a patient safety, governance, quality of care basis we were the better option.

“The decision is hugely disappointing for staff who have worked incredibly hard for years to provide a service that we are all incredibly proud of.

"We have had staff in tears at the news as they know what the implications of this move could mean for patients as well as their own jobs.”

Staff and the ambulance workers' union have also raised concerns about the impact the decision will have on the quality of patient care.

One Kidderminster ambulance worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "We were called in to a meeting on Friday to be told that the contract has gone to someone else. We're all shell-shocked.

"WMAS had an outstanding review from the CQC and have been doing a great job, reaching targets, so it must be a purely financial decision and nothing to do with patient care.

"They're compromising on patient care to save a few pennies. It's not right. Everybody knows and trusts WMAS.

"We've been told staff contracts will transfer over to the new company but it's not that straightforward. We won't be working out of the same place for one, our NHS pensions will be frozen and some people don't want to work for a private company. It's a very uncertain time.

"I really love this job and I see the difference we make to people's lives every day but that will suffer if the people above our heads start cutting corners."

Becky Dalton, from UNISON trade union, added: "We are aware of the situation and are extremely concerned about patient safety and the continuity of care. It is paramount to us that this continues.

Kidderminster Shuttle:

"As far as we are aware, workers jobs are safe and should transfer across to the new company."

She said the union would be meeting with WMAS later this week.

A spokesman for Worcestershire CCGs would not confirm the recipient of the new contract, but said that it would be awarded "based on comprehensive evaluation scoring and interviews, with a focus on ensuring patient safety remains a priority".

Wayne Spedding, operations director at E-Zec, said: "E-Zec will be taking over the non-emergency ambulance transport contract from April 1, 2020.

"It will be our first time holding the Worcestershire contract but we have held Hereford since 2015 and that has been very successful.

"Staff contracts will be protected under TUPE so any staff working on a contract basis should be able to transfer.

“We won’t know just yet where exactly staff will be based as we have only just been made aware, but of course the decision will be logistically serviceable and won’t be too far away from the current sites.

“We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded the contract.”