Health chiefs have defended their decision to award the contract for non-emergency transport services to a
Leeds-based ERS Medical have been given a five-year contract to provide patient transport services across Norfolk from this autumn.
Critics say they fear the decision will reduce the standard of services offered to patients, though officials insist savings will be put back into other areas.
The contract has been awarded by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) for West Norfolk, South Norfolk, North Norfolk and Norwich.
Dr Andrew Bryson, chairman of the South Norfolk CCG, who led the process, said: “Patients who are eligible will continue to receive a high quality, free transport service.
“In addition, the new service will cost less to run, which means we can spend the money we have saved on other areas of patient care.”
Previously, patient transport has been provided by the East of England Ambulance Service.
Liz McEwan, the trust’s head of non-emergency services, said: “We put in a strong bid to run this service as we believe we’re best placed to run patient transport and deliver quality services to patients.
“Unfortunately we were not successful and are working with staff to ensure they are supported through the transition to the new provider.”
Fraer Stevenson, a Unison branch secretary representing ambulance service workers, said the decision was “very disappointing” and there were high satisfaction levels with the current service.
She said: “Undercutting costs to win contracts must mean cutting corners and that will ultimately lead to patients losing out.
“In other areas of the country awarding NHS contracts to private companies has led to a deterioration in standards and poor service delivery to patients.
“Our members are very concerned and upset - they care deeply about the work they do and feel proud to be part of the NHS.”
The union is planning to hold drop-in sessions at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital over the next few weeks.
ERS Medical have so far declined to comment on the award of the contract.