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.
“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 email@example.com.
Source – Shields Gazette, 25 Oct 2014
A blind woman said she will fight to have her benefits reinstated after being told to get a job.
Natasha Pogson was called up to a controversial ‘fit-to-work’ assessment – part of the government’s overhaul of the welfare system.
The 28-year-old was born blind as a result of being premature – arriving at 26 weeks and weighing just 1lb 11oz.
But an assessor ruled she was not eligible for help and told her she must actively look for work through Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
Natasha’s previous benefits amounted to £162 a week under the disability allowance scheme but this will fall to £72.40 under JSA.
Natasha is in the process of appealing against the decision and slammed the system for making her feel like a benefits cheat.
“They make you feel so small, almost suggesting I am making my disability up,” she said.
“The reason for me not qualifying is apparently because I can cross a road with a blind dog in a place I am familiar with, but that isn’t always the case.
“There has been times I have fallen over in the street and not been able to get my bearings until someone comes, even with my dog there.”
Natasha, of Malvern Road, Billingham, is among thousands of people who have had to take part in the assessments.
Those who claimed incapacity benefit, income support for illness or disability or severe disablement allowance, are transferred to a new payment called employment and support allowance (ESA).
The tests, carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), decide whether claimants are still eligible to receive support.
Participants must score 15 to be deemed unable to work. Natasha scored nine and was told she was “no longer assessed as having limited capability for work”.
“The assessors ask questions such as how many fingers are they holding up, or they would lift their arms and ask if I could do the same without telling me what they were doing. I felt stupid.”
Dad Karl, 47, is Natasha’s main carer. He said he was disgusted by the answers his daughter received.
“Natasha has enough problems without people questioning her ability and intention.
“I understand the Government is trying to get people off benefits, but you have to live in the life of a blind person to know what they go through.
“For Natasha to qualify for JSA she has to be able to travel for up to 90 minutes on her own, which is completely unrealistic.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:
“The assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on entitlement is made after considering all the evidence, including evidence from a claimant’s GP, and people have the right to submit extra evidence or appeal as part of the process.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Sept 2014