Northumberland : Patients can’t access crucial care

A Seahouses patient awaiting an operation has challenged a health boss to get from his village to Hexham Hospital on public transport.

It comes after the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) introduced new national guidelines last month which mean strict criteria has to be met before a patient is eligible for transport.

One of many patients affected in the rural north of the county, Mr Vickers of Seahouses – who has surgery scheduled for a ruptured Achilles tendon – says he cannot physically reach his appointments on time without the service.

Journey times to his appointments at Hexham hospital by bus would take in access of four hours. Even then it is impossible to reach earlier appointments on time; or get back the same day following later appointments.

A taxi would cost him £120, plus £10 an hour waiting time, or £80 for a one-way trip.

In a letter CCG chief Dr Alistair Blair , Mr Vickers wrote:

“I challenge you to get from Seahouses to Hexham hospital and back to Seahouses in one day using pubic transport and keeping appointment times.”

“Your criteria is depriving me my human rights for proper medical treatment in Northumberland.”

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen said:

“I was shocked to hear about the impact the changes were having on ordinary people. It is completely unacceptable to expect older people and those who are not in the best of health to make arduous journeys.”

> Surely its unacceptable to expect anyone to have to do those sort of public transport journies ?

Ms Pörksen said she had spoken to one patient who was told to get a taxi to their appointment then reclaim the £100 fare from the hospital.

This is simply ridiculous,” she said. “There is an assumption that the high cost of a taxi fare could be met and that it would be OK to get that money back from the hospital.

“What patients need is to be able to use patient transport if a realistic and sympathetic assessment of their needs shows that it is justified.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Groups said:

From 20 October 2014, we implemented the Department of Health’s national policy where all new patient transport bookings are subject to a short assessment. The assessment includes asking a few questions about how you would normally travel for day-to-day activities and if friends or family normally take you to your appointments.

“The purpose of this assessment is to make sure that the people who require ambulance services are prioritised and that the NHS is making the best use of the funding it has available. This means that we can free up emergency services as these appointments are planned using dedicated patient transport vehicles and means that patients don’t have to wait as long.

“We understand that this can be a frustrating experience and some people who have previously used this service may find that they are no longer entitled to patient transport. If this is the case, then the booking service is offering information and advice on alternative forms of transport.”

She added: “We have introduced a script at the end of the eligibility assessment that allows people to tell us if their journey into hospital is very different from their everyday trips and then affects their health. This will allow us to make sure that we are not disadvantaging those people who have to make long or complex journeys for their healthcare.

“People also now have the opportunity to tell us any other information that they think may influence the decision to get patient transport to their appointments.

“We are committed to ensuring that patients who live in rural areas are not disadvantaged by the implementation of the criteria, however, we still need to ensure that this is applied fairly across the region.”

If patients have any concerns, queries, or you are unhappy with a decision, they can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by emailing northoftynepals@nhct.nhs.uk.

Source –  Berwick Advertiser, 29 Nov 2014

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