ARRIVA Transport Solutions has been forced into root and branch changes after underestimating the scale of patient transport.

Since the company took control of non emergency patient transport in the south west on December 1, there have been a series of hiccoughs.

Patients have complained of waiting for hours in hospitals to be picked up, and others have had to pay for taxis when their driver failed to arrive.

Ed Potter, the head of service for Arriva Transport Solutions, said there was still work to be done.

“The reality is the activity we are dealing with on a daily basis is greater than we ever expected,” he said. “We undertake 23,000 journeys all across the region, and it is natural to expect there to be some concerns about individual journeys. As a percentage it is very small; less than one per cent.

“We take the concerns very seriously, but I think the important thing to stress is there has been a transition from a highly fragmented operation before December 1 to a unified operation across the region.

“The services that were being provided before December 1 varied in their standards and the expectations the NHS had of them.

“There has been about two years’ work from the start of the bid process to the award of the contract, and four or five months to gear up for the operation itself. That included the commissioning of six bases and a dedicated control room in Bristol. We have a new fleet of vehicles which we have invested £2m in. “We are recruiting new staff, because we knew from the outset we would not bring across enough staff to provide the correct service. “In order to build a picture of what this would look like, the NHS had to take information from all 35 providers, and that is difficult.

“We made some strong assumptions about expected activity, and have had to adapt very quickly.”

After realising the extent of the task at hand, Arriva has bought the services of other companies to help plug the gaps.

“It is natural that a contract of this scope across such a broad region would go through a period of transition before we really understood it,” Mr Potter said.

“We have increased the number of hours worked by vehicles in Swindon by a quarter. “It has been necessary to recruit third party providers to increase the level of resources in the area as a short term fix. “There will be a natural progression to recruit our own staff and vehicles. There will be a period of months to bring it in line. “We also ask the NHS to look at booking a patient ready when they are really ready to leave rather than predicted times. Some of those times tend to slip.”

At the start of the service patients complained of not being able to speak to an operator to book their transport.

“The volume of calls has been significantly larger than we expected, so we have increased our number of call handlers by 50 per cent,” said Ed. “Last week all calls were answered within an average of one minute."

Steve Saxton, 50, from Twigworth, is new on the job after years with the Army.

“I have a 6am start and we work for the first part of the day from the listed tables,” he said. “As we get into the work flow things will change. We have just got to go with the flow, and you can’t come in with any predetermined ideas. “The furthest I have had to go was Portsmouth, and others have had to go further. If you pick someone up from this area you still have to take them where they want to go, and often that has been as far as London or Birmingham. “That will put you out of the loop for the rest of the day, but you can’t pre-plan for those journeys.”