South Western Ambulance Trust loses NHS patient transport work
The NHS has lost the contract to run some ambulance services in Cornwall, Somerset and parts of Devon to a private company best known for operating car parks.
NSL, formerly NCP, is to take over patient transport from the South Western Ambulance Trust.
Clinical commissioning groups said it would mean such transport was available for longer hours at the same cost.
The union Unison said it was concerned about standards and quality of service.NHS 'fragmentation'
Patient transport services make non-urgent ambulance trips, such as taking people to hospital appointments.
The South Western Ambulance Service makes about 300,000 such journeys a year.
NSL is due to take over patient transport - except in Plymouth and south Devon - in October after NHS commissioners said they wanted a more flexible service with longer hours.
Commissioners said services would be provided from 07:00 to 21:00, seven days a week, including bank holidays, rather than the current hours from 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday.
NSL - which was NCP until 2009 - operates car parks, parking enforcement and park-and-ride services.
It also runs NHS patient transport in the Midlands, and, from July, for NHS Kent and Medway.
The company said it was delighted to have won the contracts, but was limited in what it could say for legal reasons until it took over fully.'Profit priority'
Simon Moss, from Unison, said the move had come as a shock to staff.
He said members were concerned the contract was awarded too cheaply, and it would be difficult for an organisation to double the service provided for the same cost and still meet quality standards.
He said that, in some emergencies - such as the M5 motorway crash near Taunton, Somerset, in November 2011 - it was easier for NHS patient transport staff and vehicles to back up 999 crews than a service run by a different company.
He added a private company would have profit as a priority, and private organisations taking over services would lead to the NHS becoming fragmented.
South Western Ambulance will continue to run 999 and other non-emergency ambulances in the three counties.
It has yet to comment on the new contract.
A decision on patient transport services in Plymouth and Dorset is yet to be made.
In south Devon, the trust that runs Torbay Hospital provides patient transport services.