Paul Wood, Operations Manager at Tascor in Keynsham, has a clear view of the service his unit provides for all stakeholders and for a contract with Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust; caring and secure transport for vulnerable people, and transport which doesn’t stigmatise the end user.
Apart from its stretcher ambulances, Tascor’s vehicles are a tasteful dark blue with no logos or signwriting: “We don’t want people identifying Tascor with whatever we do,” says Paul. “We want our transport service to be inconspicuous, and not carry any stigma with it.”
Paul, a former Marine, is very direct about the way in which clients – many sectioned under the Mental Health Act, are treated: “Our drivers treat them as patients, not prisoners. In the past, the Police have used prison cell vehicles for this job. We favour a more caring approach.”
For the majority of work, picking up patients from their homes, transferring them between care facilities and collecting them from secure units, this is a fairly typical operation. Staff are trained in keeping patients calm and interacting with them, to the extent that Tascor has a number of more elderly staff, who have a knack with older patients who identify better with them.
The result of careful recruitment and training is a workforce who ‘absolutely love the job’ says Paul: “Unlike so many other jobs, every day is different. We try to ensure they have a chance to establish a rapport with our patients and to note the characteristics, likes and dislikes of patients on paperwork, for when someone different has the job of caring for them.”
So the vehicles – which include standard and wheelchair-lift equipped Ford Tourneos – are mainly fairly standard. But one of them is unique.
“For one of our contracts, we needed what’s known as a ‘caged’ vehicle for violent patients, not just to protect others but to protect the patient from self-harming,” said David Williams, Deputy Contracts Manager, who takes on driving duties from time to time.
“But we didn’t want steel bars or wire mesh, which would antagonise some patients. We wanted a ‘cage’ which is inconspicuous as well as effective in protecting the patient,” says Paul. “And we wanted a cage which could be removed easily, as we only have this requirement perhaps eight or nine times a year.”
The challenge was handed to Minibus Options of Whaley Bridge, whose skilled engineers set about inventing the solution. Already experts in installing lifts, steps and floors in Tascor’s fleet, Minibus Options’ CAD designers produced a range of options, all involving fitting the Tourneo with a tracked floor.
“We got loads of ideas from Minibus Options, and we went to see the company before selecting the design,” said Paul. The eventual outcome was an ingenious box-section mild steel frame with heavy-gauge, transparent polycarbonate panels, which attaches the floor via tracking clamps.
It has no finger traps and all the steelwork is external so patients have no sharp edges on which they could hurt themselves. The side window is similarly protected with a polycarbonate screen. A new seatbelt was designed so handcuffed patients can be secured – impossible with a traditional lap-and-diagonal three-point seatbelt.
“It’s very clever,” says Paul. “And it has been outstanding in service; we have had some very ill patients who have tried but failed to damage it or hurt themselves. And the price of all this work was very reasonable.” Tascor is the only company in the UK to offer this service, and has written a guide for its users which stays with the vehicle.
Tascor has 60 staff, and requires 16 of them a day, working a shift pattern. Journeys can be long; one ‘regular’ client is collected in Inverness, and on one occasion, a patient was collected from Berlin. Typically, the vehicles cover 30,000 miles a year or more. Thankfully, and as a condition of contract, all vehicles are tracked at base using a GPS system – essential when dealing with mental patients, for whom there may be a security issue.
“The system incorporates driver behaviour recording, but one of the main reasons we have it is so that, if we have an incident, we can guide the police in to the vehicle’s location, using extremely accurate geographical co-ordinates,” says Paul Williams.