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Freewheelers' charity accepts critical report

But emphasises it relates to dormant service

High-profile charity Devon Freewheelers has criticised a statement by the Care Quality Commission which rated its patient transport service as inadequate.

Also know as Devon Blood Bikes, the Honiton-based voluntary organisation has served the county for many years. 

But following a critical report by the CQC, which said the regulator had taken urgent action to suspend the patient transport service, Devon Freewheelers has pointed out the service hadn't run for some months. Their vehicles had been stored away for three months when the CQC undertook its inspection.  

They dispute that any "risk was ever posed to patients or the public."   
They'v been backed by Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish. He's met with CQC head of hospital inspections for the south west, Catherine Campbell and asked her to ‘closely liaise’ with the Devon Freewheelers to rectify the administration and licensing issues ‘so the organisation can continue their important work for the community’.   
Mr Parish said: "I would urge the CQC to ensure the report refers solely to the issues identified with the dormant patient transport service, rather than the entirety of the Devon Freewheelers operation.”  
“Since becoming MP for Tiverton and Honiton in 2010, I have supported the important work of Devon Freewheelers. Their charitable mission, Devon Blood Bikes, has provided invaluable support to local hospitals, primary care units and NHS health services, delivering blood, medical samples for testing, medication, medical equipment, and tissue samples to medical settings as required.

“This entirely voluntary service has been a real asset to local services, saving millions of pounds for NHS Trusts, and their efforts in supporting our local community should be commended.”  

MP Neil Parish is backing Devon Freewheelers

Daniel Roe-Lavery, Devon Freewheelers CEO, said he accepted the CQC report in its entirety, however, there were many mitigating circumstances that needed to be addressed.  

He said the inspection identified the current transition between the Devon Freewheelers Emergency Voluntary Service (EVS) charity and a recently-launched Devon Freewheelers Emergency Medical Service limited company (EMS), which has been set up for commercial work.  

The inspection found documentation and records to support the CQC-registered organisation - the EVS charity - were in the EMS limited company’s name and, as a result, the dormant Patient Transport Service was deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the inspectors.   

Because the registration for the CQC-regulated patient transport service was with the EVS charity, any documentation in the name of the EMS limited company was disallowed.  

The Devon Freewheelers EVS charity and EMS limited company are working closely with a number of external partners and agencies to address all the points raised in the CQC report.  

Mr Roe-Lavery, a winner of the Pride of Devon lifetime achievement award, organised by Radio Exe, said there was never any risk to patients or the public, because the patient transport service was taken off the road in January 2021, at the request of Devon Freewheelers, when the qualified paramedic operating it left his role.

He added that the organisation had always considered patient and public safety of paramount importance in all of its operations, and that included protecting others from the risk of covid.
Mr Roe-Lavery said: “We explained to the CQC that the Patient Transport Service, with ambulances, has not been running since the start of the year because it has been dormant since January 2021.  

“When the inspection report arrived, we discovered the CQC had chosen to ignore to include the fact that the Patient Transport Service it came to inspect was not running and had been taken off the road months ago. 
“The CQC still refuses to admit this fact in its report, despite repeated requests for this to be acknowledged.  

“The reason we stopped operating the Patient Transport Service in January 2021 was because the member of EMS staff, a qualified paramedic employed to run the ambulances, left their post. We took the decision to take the service off the road immediately because we recognised we had no-one qualified to run it.
“Patient transport, utilising ambulances, was completely suspended in January and our error was not reporting to the CQC this registration was dormant. No regulated CQC patient transport activity has taken place since then and no person was at risk at any time."

He added: “When the inspectors arrived at the charity’s premises, what was discovered is that the required documentation and records to support the CQC-registered organisation - the charity - were in the limited company’s name. Because the registration for the regulated ambulance service is with the charity, any documentation in the name of the limited company could not be accepted.  

“We explained to the inspectors the transition between the charity and the newly-registered limited company, and in order to avoid public confusion, how the commercial enterprise – the dormant patient transport service - was being operated by the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) limited company and not the charity.”  

“In essence, the inspection has highlighted an administration error. The policies and procedures don’t marry up and we must put them in the right name of the right organisation and resubmit them.”    
In November 2020, Devon Freewheelers immediately reported a covid outbreak in the organisation to the NHS Trust it was operating with and liaised with Public Health England.

Throughout the pandemic, twice-weekly lateral flow tests have been in place for all involved with Devon Freewheelers EVS and EMS services.  
Devon Freewheelers formally deregistered its dormant patient transport service with the CQC on 2 July 2021.  

The CQC carried out an unannounced inspection of the Devon Freewheelers charity (EVS) – the regulated provider of the patient transport service in April, with three inspectors.   As a result, the CQC initially served an urgent 12-week suspension order for the dormant service, which had already been taken off the road by Devon Freewheelers in January.  

The 12-week suspension was to allow the paperwork error to be rectified; to de-register the EVS charity with the CQC and apply to correctly register the regulation of the EMS businesses with the CQC.   

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