Fear for elderly as NHS changes transport rules
FEARS HAVE been raised of sick and elderly people in rural North Yorkshire struggling to get to hospital appointments after the rules on who is eligible for NHSfunded transport were tightened.
Patients in the Upper Dales have told how they faced a “barrage of questions” from ambulance service staff when trying to arrange lifts with the Patient Transport Service (PTS).
NHS bosses launched a review of the PTS services, saying some patients were using the transport when they were not eligible to do so.
Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions the service, said the rules had not changed and the criteria had been brought into line with national standards.
Barry Wilcox, of Hawes, told how he struggled to persuade Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff to provide transport to hospital for his 97-year-old mother Elsie.
Mr Wilcox said: “More and more I find that when I ring up the call centre to arrange transport I meet with a barrage of questions.
“The operator said, ‘why does your mother require the transport?’.
“I repeated, time and time again, that she is 97, she’s almost blind and is hard of hearing. It was a battle of wills.”
Mr Wilcox said patients were being asked if they could arrange alternative means of transport.
He said: “One of the questions the call centre operators ask is whether your neighbours can take you. Half of our neighbours are retired and don’t have cars and the other half are working during the day.
“We in the Upper Dales depend upon the patient transport.
“I know NHS funding is in dire straits. But they really are attacking patients when they are probably at their most vulnerable because of their health conditions.”
Upper Dales County Councillor John Blackie said there were concerns that patients had been given little notice of changes to eligibility for transport.
Hawes, which has not had a railway station since the 1950s, is 60 miles away from James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and more than an hour away by car from hospitals in Northallerton and Darlington.
Coun Blackie said: “This has been implemented without consultation. Quite clearly it’s a real concern.
“From Hawes to James Cook hospital it is 60 miles. You can’t go there and back in a day on the bus.
“I feel that this is a very insensitive way of introducing the changes. I think it is an utter disgrace.”
CCG bosses said the PTS contract with the ambulance service had seen an increase in demand and it could not afford to meet the cost of transporting patients who were not eligible.
From October 15, patients who are not entitled to use the PTS service will be guided to voluntary organisations offering a car scheme which is capped at £20 per journey. Patients on benefits are able to reclaim the cost of transport to hospital.
Those who go to hospital regularly for renal dialysis, chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment will automatically receive PTS transport.
A CCG spokesperson said: “We anticipate that improved implementation of the national eligibility criteria for PTS will enhance the current service for Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby patients who are eligible and provide signposting for all other patients to access other transport options where friends or family cannot assist.”
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