An injured woman with mobility problems was left stranded at a hospital late at night because she did not meet new NHS criteria for transport home.
Lisa Collins, who suffers from a condition that causes her knees to dislocate without warning, had been promised a taxi home from South Tyneside District Hospital when she needed treatment for an eye injury.
But, when she came to be discharged, the 22-year-old, from Westoe, South Shields, was told to make her own way home, despite wearing an eyepatch.
Ms Collins, who has undergone several operations to her legs, said:
“It was 2.30am and they expected me to walk home in the dark by myself, only being able to see out of one eye.”
The customer service advisor had hurt herself earlier in the day when her cat accidentally scratched her in the eye with his claw.
She developed an infection and called the non-emergency 111 number at 9.15pm for advice when the pain became unbearable and her vision started to blur.
She says she was told to go straight to hospital.
“I told them I was going to have to wait until the morning when I could get the bus. She said ‘we’ll sort you out a taxi there and back’.
“I said I don’t need one to get there, I could get the bus, but I would need one to get one back and they said that was OK.”
Ms Collins arrived at the hospital, in Harton Lane, at 9.30pm. Just under two hours later, after being given eye drops and an eye patch, she was discharged with a special cream and a course of antibiotics.
“It was 11.45pm so I had missed my last bus. I went to the front desk and said I was ready to get my taxi.
“That’s when the woman said I didn’t meet the criteria, saying ‘you have to be older than 65’.
“She said ‘you are young enough to get yourself home. It’s your responsibility.”
Ms Collins added:
“I told her I have mobility problems and asked her to check my medical record, but she refused.
“I live on my own. I was very upset and it made the pain in my eye a lot worse. I was crying and I had to take the bandage off, as it was wet.
“I said ‘there is no way I can get home at 1am’. I had no money. I wouldn’t get paid for another week.”
Miss Collins was then told she could have transport, but it would take up to nine hours as her case was classed as ‘non-urgent’
Her father, who lives on the other side of Newcastle, eventually managed to contact a taxi firm willing to pick her up, with him paying the fare the following day, and Miss Collins finally got home shortly before 3am.
She added: “I pay my taxes and feel the NHS has really failed me.”
South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Steve Williamson said:
“We are sorry Ms Collins feels that our receptionist was rude.
“Our staff are trained to be professional and courteous at all times. If she would like to contact us, we would be very happy to look into her concerns.”
A North East Ambulance Service spokeswoman said:
“We transported this patient to South Tyneside Hospital and return transport was booked for her by the hospital.
“Due to demand elsewhere, it appears the patient preferred not to wait until transport became available, and made her own way home after the hospital cancelled her transport booking.
“Ambulances are prioritised according to clinical need and the most critically ill people will receive resources first. Unfortunately sometimes this means that some people have to wait longer.
“Where possible, we encourage patients to prepare to make their own way home from hospital so that resources are available for greater emergencies.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 24 Nov 2014
A hospital trust’s decision to fine patient transport ambulances £70 if they spend longer than 20 minutes unloading patients has been criticised by a health union.
It followed the decision by bosses at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to extend parking restrictions around its main entrance to include patient transport vehicles operated by the North East Ambulance Service.
The NEAS declined to comment about the move by hospital bosses, but Joel Byers, NEAS branch secretary for Unison, said the decision to extend £70 fines to NHS ambulances unloading patients was “a bit draconian.”
Mr Byers said:
“You can’t just drop patients off in reception you have to take them to where they are going and that could be a ward at the furthest point from the entrance. Allowing 20 minutes to do this is not appropriate.”
The Unison official and staff side secretary added:
“If patients were able to walk or get in on their own it wouldn’t be an issue, but many need to be helped to get to where they are going.”
Mr Byers said it looked as if the Newcastle Hospitals Trust was seeking to fine people for doing their job.
“It’s a stressful enough job to start with without being pressured and worried about going over the 20 minutes. Aren’t we all supposed to be in the same Health Service?”
“Other vehicles including general public, staff, commercial suppliers and non-urgent passenger carrying, including taxis and ‘personnel carriers’ which may involve patient transport, are expected to respect the need for continuous traffic flow in this area, albeit some tend to park up when there are nearby designated patient transport holding bays that can be utilised as and when the need arises.
“North East Ambulance Service staff who utilise ‘personnel carriers’ and other ‘non-urgent’ forms of vehicles are not excluded from the restriction which is to achieve continuous traffic flow and safety as the overriding consideration. Simply to park up in restricted areas is unacceptable hence the risk of a parking charge notice.”
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Nov 2014
A man has told of his outrage after being told he’d have to pay £60 to take his disabled wife to hospital by taxi.
Joe Charman and his wife Lyndsay have regularly used North East Ambulance Service’s patient transport to get to and from hospital appointments.
But, following changes to the system by the Department of Health, the couple, of Ingleside, South Shields, have been told they no longer qualify.
Mrs Charman, 50, suffers from myotonic dystrophy, a type of muscular dystrophy that relaxes the muscles, and is unable to travel on the bus or Metro.
Mr Charman, 58, asked for an ambulance to take her to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital next week for a heart check and clinic visit, and says their only option now is to get a wheelchair taxi.
But – with a bill of £30 each way – Mr Charman, who is a registered carer for his wife, says they simply cannot afford to go.
“My wife had to have a pacemaker fitted last year because of her condition.
“She fell at home and broke her ankle in April and was in South Tyneside District Hospital for a while because she had a blood clot in her arm that they said had been because of the operation.
“She was sent home 14 weeks ago and ever since then, she has been in a hospital bed at our home.
“We have to go to the Freeman once a year for her heart check and muscular dystrophy clinic. We live in Marsden and have always got an ambulance.”
“I used to ring the GP and they would organise one for us, but this time was told I had to ring a different number.
“The man I spoke to wasn’t very nice and he said he had to ask a series of questions before he could book us an ambulance.
“He asked about my wife’s disability and how I would get her to hospital in an emergency. I said, if I had no other choice, I would get a wheelchair taxi and he said that’s what I’d have to do this time.
“It would cost £30 there and the same back and we just can’t afford it. My wife is on incapacity benefits and I get a small carer’s allowance.
“We can’t afford £60 to get to a hospital appointment, and she can’t get on the Metro or the bus.”
“I’ve had to ring the Freeman and tell them we can’t make it. We’ve always been given an ambulance in the past and I don’t understand why it’s different now.
“We’re hoping the Freeman might be able to help us out but we’re waiting to hear back from them.”
A spokesman for the Clinical Commissioning Groups in the North East said:
“We’re sorry to hear about Mr Charman and his wife’s situation and the inconvenience this may cause.
“From October 20, 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.
“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.
“If patients have any concerns, queries, or are unhappy with a decision, they can contact the North of Tyne Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org”
> Welcome to the wonderful world of the privatised NHS… it’s only going to get worse.
Source – Shields Gazette, 03 Nov 2014
NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East, new figures have revealed.
The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s spending on private ambulance services has more than quadruped between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14, figures from Freedom of Information Requests show.
In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose a staggering 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.
However, other ambulance services maintained lowest levels of spending across the period while one even reduced its reliance on private vehicles.
Over the same period, average ambulance response times – the period between a logged call and the vehicle’s arrival – increased by 51 seconds in the North East.
A spokesperson for the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said:
“While it’s true that average ambulance response times have increased over the last three years, so too has the volume of calls being dealt with by our contact centre.
“Despite this marked increase in activity, the North East Ambulance Service remains one of the best performing in the country for reaching those patients most in need.
“To put it in perspective, our average response time to an emergency in 2011 was 5 minutes 11 seconds. In 2014, it is six minutes. Both of which are well within the national target of eight minutes.
“Organisations such as Red Cross and St John have been used to a greater extent over the last year, again as a consequence of demand.
“There is also a national shortage of paramedics due to the longer three-year-period it now takes to complete the required degree. NEAS hopes to have an extra 140 paramedics by 2016.”
Official NHS figures show that across the country even ambulances for the most serious cases are taking over a minute longer to reach patients than three years ago.
NHS ambulance services across England are now spending close to double the figure on private ambulances when compared to 2012, with parts of the country seeing a 10-fold rise.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said:
“These figures show just how quickly the NHS is changing under David Cameron. Blue-light ambulance services have traditionally been considered part of the public core of the NHS. It is clear that no part of the NHS is now immune to privatisation.
“When people dial 999, most would expect an NHS ambulance crew to turn up. People have never been asked whether they think blue-light ambulance services should be run by private companies. Before this practice goes any further, there should be a proper public debate about it.
“NHS paramedics have raised concerns over whether private crews have sufficient training, competence and are fully equipped. The Government needs to provide urgent answers to these questions and provide assurances that this practice is not compromising patient safety.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 21 Oct 2014
Fears have been raised that the region’s ambulance service is struggling following incidents where patients have been left for hours.
In recent weeks issues have arisen where elderly patients have been left waiting for paramedics from the North East Ambulance Service to arrive.
Frances Logan, 94, of Hetton-le-Hole, suffered a fall in her apartment and was left lying on the floor for three hours until an ambulance finally turned up.
In another incident this Monday, an elderly woman who fell at Beaconsfield Avenue, Low Fell, Gateshead, was left lying on the pavement for more than two-and-a-half hours until emergency services arrived.
Meanwhile, this Wednesday a Health and Care Professions Council hearing will look into the conduct of former North East paramedic, Mark P Lakinski, who is alleged to have failed to transport a patient directly to hospital as his shift was due to end and he handed the patient over to another paramedic so he could be relieved from duty. The patient later died at hospital.
Union officials and a leading North MP have now warned that crews are being spread too thinly as the face increasing pressures.
Joel Byers, Unison branch secretary for the North East Ambulance Service said: “Paramedics are working very hard, but there is a lack of resources and a lack of paramedics. It is down to cuts that ambulance services are facing. The cuts were not supposed to affect patient care or the frontline, but they have.
“Paramedics are under increasing pressure and some are leaving the profession to pursue different careers or are moving abroad. Pressures are such that staff can’t get finished on time and they can’t get their meal breaks.”
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said he was concerned that the strain on the ambulance service was “now intolerable” and more investment was required to tackle the problems the service is facing.
He said: “We can’t go on like this. The ambulance service cannot be the only point of contact with healthcare. The strain on the service is now intolerable. Nor is it fair to put further pressure on hospital’s A&E departments. In many cases this amounts to the same thing.
“The North East Ambulance Service is regarded as one of the best in the country but it is being overwhelmed by increased demand. The answer is further investment in the service itself and in the work of General Practice. There is also a strong case for clamping down on hoax calls and misuse of the service.”
Health chiefs at the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said both the elderly women’s falls were correctly categorised by as Green 3, the lowest priority available.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 July 2014
Paramedics will today hold crisis talks as the North East Ambulance Service reveals the full extent of Government cuts.
Ambulance staff will meet at a seminar to ask just who cares for the carers, and what can be done to force NHS bosses to better fund them.
The service will warn that Government-ordered 20% budget cuts mean patients are sometimes waiting more than two hours for a vehicle, while rapid response staff are waiting five hours in a patient’s home with the patient waiting for transport.
In a damning list of support failings set to go to NHS chiefs, the service will warn that: staff morale is at an all-time low; assaults on staff have shot up; paramedics are spending hours in A&E waiting for a bed for patients.
Union leaders say the service is having to call in volunteers from St John’s Ambulance to help out even o n some emergency calls.
Just last week it was reported home patients in the North East are being forced to wait up to six hours for an ambulance despite guidelines saying paramedics should arrive within 30 minutes.
One patient had to wait more than three hours after the emergency was categorised as ‘red2’, which is potentially life-threatening and has a target time of eight minutes.
Figures obtained by The Journal from a Freedom of Information request showed that the North East Ambulance Service failed to meet their target response times on 10 separate occasions in a 12-month period.
Staff at the meeting in Durham today will discuss what to do about growing work pressures. They say that late finishes appear now to be nearly every shift, there are late meal breaks, if any at all, and will warn that crews are regularly facing angry families when arriving on a job knowing that the patient had been waiting for a while.
Paramedics will hear from North East Labour MEP candidate Jude Kirton-Darling, who will warn that a Conservative victory in elections this May could see EU working limits scrapped, making the situation worse.
Joel Byers, Unison’s North East Ambulance Service staff secretary, said: “Government cuts have forced ambulance trusts to cut 20% of their budget year on year but stating patient care should not be affected. This is an impossible task as the majority of our budget is for frontline services.
“The Commissioners are reluctant to pay extra money on a long-term basis to enable North East Ambulance Service to recruit more vitally needed staff. However, workloads have increased year on year with no extra resources except for the use of Private Ambulance Companies. The use of Private Ambulance Companies, First Responders and Police Cars is evidence in itself that there is a lack of resource in frontline staff.
“Every department from frontline, support services and HQ staff are undergoing restructures which are potentially putting staff at risk.
“The extra pressure being applied by the cuts is not just having emotional impact on staff but also a physical impact on staff in terms of assaults and injuries at work.
“For example the number of North East Ambulance Staff that have either suffered an injury at work or been assaulted has risen 590 in 2009 to 916 in 2013.
“With the ongoing pressure being placed on staff we expect the number to increase considerably in 2014.”
Last night he was backed by Ms Kirton-Darling, who said: “Ambulance workers in the North East have told me over the last few months they have experienced growing pressure as their working conditions deteriorate.
“Vital rest periods, set out in the European working time directive are there to ensure ambulance staff are able to operate safely and effectively on our behalf.
“Who in their right mind would want an ambulance worker dealing with a matter of life and death after a 12-hour shift without rest?
“The North East Ambulance Service must ensure decent rest periods and limit working time, otherwise I fear the service could face its own emergency soon with the public and workforce potentially put at risk.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 29 Jan 2014