Blind man was asked: ‘Can’t you get the bus to hospital?’

A blind man in South Tyneside says he was asked if he could “get a bus” under a controversial new vetting system for ambulances.

Former lorry driver Alan Tully, 65, lost the sight in his left eye 25 years ago to glaucoma and has very minimal sight in his right.

He regularly books ambulances for treatment at Sunderland Eye Infirmary and a diabetic clinic at South Tyneside District Hospital.

But when he called last Friday to book an ambulance for an appointment at Sunderland Royal Hospital next month, he was told he was “not entitled” to one – and advised to take a taxi or bus instead.

The move comes after a new eligibility system introduced by the North East’s clinical commissioning groups.

Mr Tully, of Winskell Road, Simonside, South Shields, said:

“I rang my GP at Cleadon Park and they told me the system had changed and they gave me a number to ring.

“When I called, they asked me if I couldn’t not use a taxi instead. I thought he meant a taxi ambulance, which I have used in the past, but he meant for me to pay for a taxi.

“I rang back later and this time the woman asked if I could not get a bus to Sunderland.

“I just told her I was blind and my legs aren’t too good.”

Mr Tully, who gets about with the support of his guide dog Zeke, called the service last Friday and is still waiting to hear from health bosses if he meets the criteria needed for an ambulance.

He added: “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful, I really do.

“How are pensioners supposed to be able to pay for taxis?”

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck expressed her concerns over the rule change and is to seek a meeting with the region’s Commissioning Group.

A spokesman on behalf of the Clinical Commissioning Groups in the North East said he could not comment on an individual case.

He confirmed that regulations did not exempt a person with any particular condition or illness from having their transport eligibility reviewed.

She added:

From October 20, all new Patient Transport Service bookings are subject to a short eligibility assessment, in accordance with national policy.

“This will take the form of a small number of questions being asked at the time of booking.

“The purpose of eligibility criteria is to ensure that those patients, with a medical requirement, can access transport to hospital. Patients with a medical requirement to be transported by ambulance will continue to receive transport.

> You might have thought that any patient trying to get to hospital for pre-arranged treatment could be considered to have a medical requirement ?

“Patients who are not eligible, are given information on alternatives available to them. Patients will not have to pay for an ambulance where there is a medical need for transport.”

If patients have any concerns or queries, they can contact the North of Tyne Patient Advice and Liaison Service via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by e-mailing northoftynepals@nhct.nhs.uk.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  25 Oct 2014

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