Press the pause button! Manchester MP Andy Burnham pushes government to halt PTS privatisation

By Jess Phillips

The government must ‘press the pause button’ on plans to privatise Greater Manchester’s Patient Transport Service to prevent standards slipping, according Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

Mr Burnham joined Lucy Powell, who is running as MP for Manchester Central in the Thursday by-election, in Manchester to meet patients, volunteers and ambulance staff at the North West Ambulance Service.

The NWAS lost the bid to run the service to transport company Arriva, despite the private group scoring lower on quality.

Campaigners have been petitioning against the takeover, which is due to take place in March 2013.

Mr Burnham said: “As a Greater Manchester MP I cannot accept that we might have a lower standard of service here than elsewhere in the North West.”

Mr Burnham, who told MM he found the lack of formal consultation with the public unacceptable, vowed to raise the issue on a national level and yesterday wrote to Jeremy Hunt demanding a full public consultation.

He said: “It is not just a fight for the passenger patient transport service in Greater Manchester, it’s everybody’s fight.”

Mr Burnham fears the public will start to question their trust in the system once profit making entities start to get in in a large way.

He said: “Once you lose that trust that underpins the health service, you’ll never get it back again.”

Mr Burnham is not opposed to a role for the private sector in the NHS but says he is opposed to this when it affects the essential services that need to be there in every community, such as the PTS.

Mr Burnham thinks the government should reconsider their decisions to hand over public services to the private sector, in light of repeated examples of contracts being left unfulfilled or companies going bust.

He said: “We’ve seen in other areas: G4S at the Olympics, the West Coast Mainline. It’s people making unrealistic promises that they couldn’t deliver.

“You can’t have that in the health service. It’s not good in any public service but it’s particularly unacceptable in health care.

“It’s too much of a risk when thousands of vulnerable people are involved.”

Mr Burnham dismissed the PTS as a transport or taxi service.

He said: “For parents who have children with disabilities or people who have got elderly relatives who need care, it’s not just packing them off in a bus.”

At the campaign launch, NWAS paramedic Craig Wilde spoke of the extra care that NWAS staff offer.

“Our staff go in, make sure the patients are safe, make sure there is food in the cupboard and a brew on the table for them,” he said.

“These things aren’t in the contract but are something they do daily because they care.”

These are things that campaigners say will be taken away when Arriva run the service.

“Those things matter don’t they?” said Mr Burnham.

“Those little touches – the cup of tea, the kind word.

“You can’t sell off this product; you can’t put this stuff up for sale.”

Mr Burnham is encouraging all of Greater Manchester’s MPs to get involved with the campaign effort.

Lucy Powell said the move is a ‘disgrace’.

“Despite the NHS bid winning on quality the contract has been awarded to a private bus company simply on cost,” she said.

“This will have a very damaging impact on the service quality, and I will fight this decision.”

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