Fern Bast has good reason to celebrate and praise the NHS in Calderdale. She recently had an amazing, successful operation to repair her damaged, degenerating spine and it is now repairing itself.
However, her experience with Opcare, the company that runs the recently privatised Wheelchair Service, has been less happy – to the extent that in March this year she made a formal complaint to Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) about the completely inappropriate conditions she found, when she attended the Opcare outreach clinic at Beechwood Medical Centre in Halifax, for a fitting for a powered chair.
5 months on, Calderdale CCG has still not got to the bottom of the problem.
Calderdale CCG is one of the West Yorkshire NHS commissioners responsible for privatising the NHS Wheelchair Service and giving the contract to to Opcare Ltd.
Fern thought it important that the Calderdale CCG Governing Body should know about the performance of the company that they’d agreed to award the wheelchair services contract to. That way, they could take appropriate action with Opcare and also think about whether privatisation was such a great idea. So she asked me to write to Calderdale CCG Governing Body about her bad experience with Opcare Ltd, and go to their 12th March 2015 meeting to hear what they said.
But the Chair, Dr Alan Brook, told the CCG Governing Body that Fern’s and my questions about Opcare’s Wheelchair Service were inadmissible – without telling them what the questions were.
5 months later and still waiting…
As of 26th August, the Clinical Commissioning Group had still not managed to get to the bottom of Fern’s complaint.
Four months of emailed excuses would try the patience of a saint.
You’d think that investigating Fern’s complaint would be a matter of going to Beechwood Medical Centre (which is where Opcare Ltd has its Halifax outreach clinic), talking to the Opcare staff member and checking out the facilities there.
And the CCG could also ask Opcare why they don’t have a proper clinic in Halifax – when they have clinics in many other towns and cities. Why are they not using the wheelchair-friendly Community Care Services building at Salterhebble, where the NHS wheelchair service was based?
Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group referred Fern’s complaint to the Yorkshire and Humber Commissioning Support Unit’s Senior Associate, Governance and Risk.
She referred the complaint to an “investigator”.
She twice had to ask the “investigator” for more information.
She then had to review the “investigator’s” information.
She then had to refer the information from the “investigator” to Matt Walsh, Calderdale CCG’s ChIef Officer.
At Matt Walsh’s request, she then had to ask the Operations Manager for the Ability Matters Group for more information on the Opcare service – particularly on the suitability of the use of Beechwood Medical Centre for the wheelchair service. (The Ability Matters Group is a group of companies that Opcare Ltd is part of)
She then “lost the support of [her] Complaints Support Officer” and had to wait to hear back from the Operations Manager for the Ability Matters Group.
She then had to wait for Matt Walsh to approve the Operations Manager’s additional comments.
This is laughable – except it’s not, because it’s about a patient’s need for a vital service, and for information about why they were assessed in conditions that were inappropriate for both the patient and the staff.
What’s more, on 25th August Opcare Ltd repeated an assessment visit that Fern had already had in June 2014, to test a powered wheelchair in her house and the pavements outside.
This time, Opcare brought a demonstration wheelchair that was larger than Fern needed and larger than the one that Fern had modified her house for, after the June 2014 assessment visit. So she now has to re-modify ramps, platforms etc, in the hope that she will eventually receive a powered wheelchair. Although – even following her GP’s appeal of Opcare’s initial refusal, and the rehab engineer’s approval of her arrangements following the most recent assessment visit – it’s not clear that she will.
Ms Bast said,
“What was the point of the visit as I had had this assessment last June 2014? However the ramp and platform I have had made are too narrow so he explained it was marginal I could use the chair but he will put the order in place and provided the ramp is widened and the platform size increased and the slope out to the side is levelled, he would sign it over to me. There seems to be a woman in the mix that has to agree and a budget, limited monthly … So if there is no money, despite the need for a chair I won’t get one! When I asked when there would be a decision, the answer was ‘How long is a piece of string?’ ”
When Plain Speaker spoke with Ms Bast soon after the assessment visit and the latest in the stream of emails making excuses for not resolving her complaint, she was totally exhausted.
Ms Bast is suffering from the government’s policy to defund, run down and privatise the NHS. And no doubt the Opcare staff are too, who were TUPE’d over from the NHS when the wheelchair services were privatised and have since had to work in inappropriate conditions with inadequate information.
Please get in touch if you have experienced problems, as a patient or health care worker, because of the defunding, run down and privatisation of the NHS. We cannot let this go on.