Kent Healthwatch, county wheelchair users and disability forums and county councillors, including Thanet representatives Karen Constantine and Lesley Game, are demanding that a contract managed by Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group for wheelchair provider Millbrook Healthcare is axed.
NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) looks after the contract on behalf of the eight CCGs across Kent and Medway. Millbrook Healthcare is tasked with providing NHS funded wheelchairs for children and adults in Kent and Medway with long-term needs of six months or more.
But the service has been slammed for a backlog which has resulted in some 330 people waiting over a year for a wheelchair and, as of March 2018, 251 children and 999 adults waiting for more than 18 weeks for assessment, repairs or provision of equipment.
Millbrook Healthcare took on the contract in April 2017 and both the company and Thanet CCG say a backlog was inherited of long waiters and a much higher proportion of patients requiring powered and specialist wheelchairs than had been expected during the procurement.
Thanet CCG say that following an audit it has been recognised that in order to resolve this, additional funds will need to be provided to Millbrook Healthcare with an amount agreement expected by the end of the month.
But Professor Mike Oliver, speaking on behalf county wheelchair user and disability forums and Kent Healthwatch, said the service was “the worst it has ever been” in his 56 years experience of being a wheelchair user and over 20 years background working with health care providers.
He said: “We believe there is no alternative but to remove the contract from Millbrook.
“There are issues about wheelchairs not being provided, people being told the budget has already run out, some people are being provided with the wrong parts and repairs are delayed. The whole situation is getting out of hand and communication with Millbrook is poor, complaints are ignored.”
Professor Oliver said hospitals were running out of their own chairs because they had to provide them to patients failed by Millbrook in order to prevent hospital bed blocking.
He also claimed that harassment, bullying, threatening behaviour and even assault had been reported in regards to the company.
He added: “The situation has reached a critical stage. The CCG appears to want to work with Millbrook in order to try and resolve the problems but we have made it clear we do not think that is a viable option. The only option is for MillBrook to have the contract taken away.”
Alisa Ogilvie, from Thanet CCG, apologised for the experience suffered by service users and admitted the waiting times were ‘unacceptable’ but said the CCG had not considered terminating the contract.
She said the inherited backlog and high volume of specialist chairs required had impacted on the service.
She said: “We are determined to make sure patients receive the service they deserve. We still believe, at this current time, that MillBrook are able to deliver this contract.”
Councillor Constantine was one of several members who called for the contract to be terminated. She added: “This is a prime example of how outsourcing in the NHH puts profit before people. I think it is shameful.
“I think we need to terminate this contract.”
Speaking after the meeting, she added: “The commissioners are not listening to the pain, distress and discomfort of the service users.
“It’s absolutely staggering that 330 patients have been waiting for over a year for a wheelchair fitting. It is equally staggering to hear this is a direct result of introducing outsourcing in the NHS.”
Her call was echoed by Councillor Game who questioned why the contract had not been monitored more closely and suggested if it couldn’t be axed then a body other than the CCG should manage it.
Members of the health scrutiny board have asked Thanet CCG to return in two weeks with a report outlining the contract details, consideration of termination and an action plan.
A letter expressing the committee’s ‘grave concerns’ will be sent to all the CCGs.
A spokesperson from NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group and Millbrook Healthcare said: “NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), on behalf of the eight CCGs across Kent and Medway, has been working with Millbrook Healthcare to understand the current situation in relation to the inherited backlog and delays in equipment and repairs taking place.
“Following an independent audit commissioned by the CCGs, we are now in a position to understand the full scale of the issues, which we are working on in conjunction with Millbrook Healthcare. Both the CCGs and Millbrook Healthcare are taking this situation very seriously and we apologise for the time it has taken to get to this point however, it has been necessary given the issues presented.
“The CCGs recognise the impact that the inherited backlog has had on the service, and that this has caused additional cost pressures. Once the additional funding has been agreed the CCGs are committed to releasing the funds to help Millbrook Healthcare clear the backlog.
“The additional funding will be linked to a plan with clear timelines for issuing equipment and repairs for those patients who have been waiting for 18-weeks or more, with those who have been waiting for longer than a year being prioritised.
“Once the plan has been agreed, we will be contacting these patients. The CCGs are working in collaboration with Millbrook Healthcare to review the on-going demands on the service.”