CAMPAIGNERS have accused Swindon NHS commissioners of failing to do their homework after awarding a multi-million pound transport contract to a company once branded “diabolical” by councillors.

Minibus firm E-Zec has been given the contract worth an estimated £80m over the next 10 years to provide non-emergency patient transport across Swindon, Wiltshire, Bath and north-east Somerset. It took over from June 1.

Five years ago, the transfer of the service to E-zec in Dorset was described as “diabolical” and a “gargantuan failure” by councillors. Rather than the expected 470 calls a day from patients, the company received 1,600.

Last year, regulator the Care Quality Commission criticised E-zec Medical Transport – Bristol, saying there was no evidence staff references had been received or reviewed, staff were not trained to carry out driving duties safely, bosses were unable to say if mandatory training had been completed and key targets were not always achieved.

Samantha Wathen of Swindon Keep Our NHS Public said: “A cursory glance at E-Zec reveals numerous damning comments from employees and patients, with them making headlines for poor service in at least two different areas of the country.

“It frankly beggars belief that the CCG have awarded a contract worth £80m to this company after also receiving complaints over the previous provider, Arriva. Where is the due diligence? Inept profit-making companies should not be running NHS services, and CCGs should not be enabling them.”

The contract was awarded by the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership for the region, essentially a grouping of local clinical commissioning groups.

A spokesman for Swindon CCG said the process of appointing a new non-emergency patient transport service provider was rigorous and subject to a high level of scrutiny: “We are confident that E-zec Medical Transport Services, which provides similar services to almost a dozen NHS organisations across the country, will provide local people with transportation of a high standard, and we – along with colleagues at our neighbouring CCGs – will be monitoring its performance on an ongoing basis and, wherever necessary, take appropriate action to resolve any issues.

“Of course, as with all our services, we are keen to hear of patients’ experiences and we would encourage people to leave feedback by calling 0300 777 5577.”

The previous service provider, Arriva, had been criticised by patients in recent years over what they claimed to be long waiting times. Mark Feather, the firm’s head of patient transport, said the company had decided not to bid to run the Swindon and Wiltshire service from 2019 as it “foes not fully align with our future ambitions in areas such as demand management”.

E-Zec was approached for comment.

Last week, as E-zec launched the service in Swindon, commercial director Andy Wickenden said: “We are very much looking forward to providing patients across the region with a high quality non-emergency transport service. We would like to thank the commissioners and Arriva Transport Solutions for the support they have provided over the last few months while we worked together to ensure a smooth handover of the service."