Devon Freewheelers response to the CQC report  

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Devon Freewheelers response to the CQC report  

 Key points: 

  • CQC ‘inadequate’ rating relates solely to a Patient Transport Service, which had been inoperative since January 2021, and not to the wider work of Devon Freewheelers.   
  • There was never any risk to patients or the public. 
  • The CQC has never acknowledged in its findings that the Patient Transport Service was dormant.   
  • Devon Freewheelers has acted to immediately address all points in the report.   
  • Error was in registering the charity with the CQC as the operator of the Patient Transport Service, and not notifying CQC when it became dormant, with administrative error swiftly rectified.   
  • Devon Freewheelers made an independent decision to remove the Patient Transport Service from operation in January 2021, acknowledging it had no qualified personnel to run it. 
  • Administrative error meant CQC ignored all required documents, policies, reports and procedures held by Devon Freewheelers. 
  • The suspension of CQC-regulated activities amounts to less than five per cent of overall Devon Freewheelers operations. 

In addition: 

  • Devon Freewheelers immediately reported a Covid-19 outbreak to the NHS Trust it was contracted to, liaised with Public Health England from the outset, but was never informed it must notify the Health and Safety Executive.  
  • Oxygen cylinder and Entonox was not Devon Freewheelers property and was awaiting collection by an external third-party provider, and never for use by Devon Freewheelers. 
  • All vehicles are insured. Devon Freewheelers evidenced this and proved fault lay with the insurance underwriters. 
  • Operational vehicles are rigorously cleaned.  
  • Non-operational vehicles are in storage. 
  • External review by fire safety officer found fully-compliant gas cage and no risk posed by the location of motorbike and oxygen storage.  
  • A 23-page rebuttal of the CQC report has been ignored. 

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will on Thursday, July 8, issue a report rating a dormant Patient Transport Service, which has been out of use since January 2021, as ‘inadequate’.   

Findings of the CQC relate solely to this off-the-road service and not to the wider work of the Devon Freewheelers charity, such as its Blood Bikes.     

The Patient Transport Service had not been in operation since January 2021, with its vehicles stored, when the CQC carried out its inspection in late April 2021.   

No risk was ever posed to patients or the public.  

The CQC-regulated activities amounts to less than five per cent of overall Devon Freewheelers operations. 

The CQC has never acknowledged that the Patient Transport Service was, and is, dormant and its evaluation was of a non-running entity.  

The CQC has apologised in writing for some of its actions since the inspection, admitting some its movements have ‘provided confusion’ and ‘impacted’ on the other services of Devon Freewheelers, resulting in damage to the work and reputation of the long-serving charity. 

In support of the work of Devon Freewheelers, Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, met with CQC Head of Hospital Inspections for the South West, Catherine Campbell.   

 He 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.” 

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 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-19. 

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.

“The Patient Transport Vehicles, and all related equipment, have been in storage since January.”  

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-19 outbreak in the organisation to the NHS Trust it was operating with and liaised with Public Health England.

Throughout the pandemic, twice-weekly Covid-19 lateral flow tests have been in place for all involved with Devon Freewheelers EVS and EMS services. 

Mr Roe-Lavery said: “The organisation immediately reported the outbreak to the NHS Trust with whom we were operating and liaised with Public Health England from the onset of the outbreak. We all isolated immediately.

“At no time had anyone informed us that the Health and Safety Executive needed to be told, because, if they had, we would have done so without fail.

“Most of those who tested positive had done so at home when they were self-isolating. They did not return until the required length of time, and until they could show a negative test. 

He added: “I would like to make it clear that those who tested positive were EMS staff, and not the Blood Bikes or charity volunteers, because this has not been made clear by the CQC and gives an inaccurate portrayal of the organisation.” 

Devon Freewheelers formally deregistered its dormant Patient Transport Service with the CQC on July 2, 2021. 

The CQC carried out an unannounced inspection of the Devon Freewheelers charity (EVS) – the regulated provider of the non-running Patient Transport Service on April 29 and 30, 2021, with three inspectors.  

As a result of the inspection, the CQC initially served an urgent 12-week suspension order for the dormant Patient Transport Service.  

This service had already been taken off the road by Devon Freewheelers in January 2021.  

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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