Kent County Council demands improvements to trouble-hit new hospital transport service run by NSL Care Services
The company in charge of taking patients to hospitals around the county has admitted there are still shortcomings in the service.
Contractor NSL Care Services has been the subject of a large number of complaints about delays and missed appointments since taking on the job in July.
The contract covers 285,000 journeys for all non-emergency patients who come under the new GP care commissioning groups in Kent and Medway.
A patient bus provided by NSL Care Services at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital
Bosses were put in the spotlight over the performance by members of Kent County Council's health scrutiny committee, a watchdog group.
Councillors accused it of failing patients and, in a series of questions, demanded to know when the service would improve.
There was also criticism for health bosses who awarded the contract as they admitted they too had got things wrong.
NSL managing director Alastair Cooper admitted: "We are not happy with it, but we are doing everything we can to move it forward because we need it to be a flagship project.
"We are not doing a good enough job, but we have improved from where we started. It should [the scale of work] not have come as a surprise but some of it was a surprise."
He said the company had tendered for the work without fully appreciating the number of different health providers involved.
"What makes this new for us is the amount of providers... this is something we should have factored in."
A report from NSL reviewing performance said the company had faced staff shortages because of "high volumes of sickness and absence in the workforce".
But the report also suggested "though there is a lot more to do, it does demonstrate there has been steady and sustained improvement in performance".
But that failed to impress councillors, who lined up to denounce the company and demanded to know if it would face financial penalties for not meeting targets.
Cllr Dan Daley, a Maidstone councillor, said NSL should have known what to expect.
He said: "It should not have come as a surprise...that is not a really viable excuse."
Ian Ayres, NHS West Kent CCG's accountable officer, acknowledged the problems were continuing.
"There is blame on both sides of this. We are not where we should be."
On the question of financial penalties, he said: "We are already on that journey but it is not going to make them do it better.
"None of us saw this coming. We should have done and none of us did."
According to NSL, formal complaints fell last month to 37, lower than 53 in August and 52 in July.
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