Some eight months ago, Devon Freewheelers Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Ltd was launched – a spin-off from the charity and a separate commercial enterprise, not-for-profit company, with no shareholders.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Thursday, April 29, 2021, visited the Devon Freewheelers Emergency Voluntary Service charity at its Honiton headquarters to serve a 12-week suspension notice for its dormant ambulance service.
This is because legal paperwork must be transferred across from the charity to the new limited company.
The CQC suspension applies only to patient transport services, which are yet to be launched by the limited company.
Devon Freewheelers continues to operate as a charity, providing its free-to-use Blood Bikes service, supporting the NHS.
Any patient transport services launched will be offered through the new limited company once the policies and procedures documents have been transferred and a new application for regulated activities - such as the current inactive ambulance service – have been submitted to the CQC.
Daniel Roe-Lavery, Devon Freewheelers CEO, said the registration oversight highlighted by the CQC, and subsequent suspension as a result, had not posed any risk to the public.
He said it was ‘business as usual’ for the Devon Freewheelers charity while the changes were being made and resubmitted to the CQC.
Mr Roe-Lavery said: “We accept the CQC report in its entirety, however, there are many mitigating circumstances that need to be addressed.
“The suspension of CQC-regulated activities – which amount to less than five per cent of our overall operations – is the best way forward.
“We are now working with the CQC to address every single point it has provided, utilising professional help to do what is necessary.
“The suspension will allow the newly-formed company time to review all of its policies and procedures and re-register the ‘provider’ as Devon Freewheelers EMS Ltd.
“Patient transport utilising ambulances was completely suspended in January and our error was not reporting to the CQC this registration was dormant.
“No regulated activity has taken place since then and no person was at risk at any time.
“The Charity Commission has conducted its own investigation and issued a statement of full compliance, which Devon Freewheelers and its trustees are delighted about.
“Issues raised over the storage of equipment – belonging to a third-party service provider – were rectified immediately.
“All donations made to, and raised for, the Devon Freewheelers are ring-fenced and every penny goes to the charity to help keep the vital Blood Bikes service on the road.”
Mr Roe-Lavery added: “The CQC arrived at the charity’s premises last Thursday and what was discovered is that the required documentation and records to support the registered organisation - the charity - were in the limited company’s name and 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 was being operated by the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) limited company.
“The inspectors explained to us that, if the limited company was going to be operating the regulated activity of the ambulance service, the application must be in the name of the limited company and not in the registered charity.
“We need to de-register the charity as the operators of the ambulance service and re-apply to the CQC to run it through the limited company.
“In order to resolve the matter of non-compliance, the CQC has suspended our registration to allow us the opportunity to resubmit our policies, procedures, training records and registration application for the new legal entity that’s going to be carrying out any regulated activity.”
He added: “We look forward to working with the CQC to resubmit a new application for regulated activities for Devon Freewheelers EMS Ltd.
“As a result of this inspection, we now know what needs to be done and we are taking immediate action to address it and have a clear way forward.
“In essence, it has highlighted an administration error. The policies and procedures don’t marry up and we have to put them in the right name of the right organisation and resubmit them.
“We are excited to be able to take Devon Freewheelers in a new direction, offering more to the communities and people that we serve across the county.
“We have already received so many messages of support for the new Devon Freewheelers EMS venture.
“We would like to thank everyone who has supported the charity and its volunteers over the last year, which has been extremely difficult for everyone.”
The ambulance service has been dormant and the vehicles secured in a compound since January 2021 after the role of Clinical Lead at Devon Freewheelers EMS became vacant.