Outpatients in Richmondshire who previously received free transport to hospital appointments could have to find their own way following changes being introduced by local NHS bosses.
One patient who has already been told he will no-longer get free transport to the Friarage in Northallerton said it felt like officials were saying “to hell with the country folk”.
Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby (HRW) Clinical Commissioning Group and Yorkshire Ambulance Service have reviewed the way transport to hospital for outpatient appointments is allocated, with some patients now no-longer qualifying for help.
The changes are due to be introduced from October 1, although Richmondshire Today has spoken to an elderly patient in the Dales who has already been told he will not get the same level of help he previously received.
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Derek Peacock, 68, from Reeth, has an eye condition and needs to get to the Friarage in Northallerton for regular appointments.
Because of the nature of his condition he cannot drive to hospital and previously received free patient transport.
However, when trying to book last month he was told that he no-longer qualified for both journeys, although they would bring him back.
This has left him facing a journey on public transport of almost three hours to get to his appointment or pay £55 for a taxi.
Mr Peacock said he was very unimpressed with the change, adding: “They are saying to hell with the country folk – they can go and rot.
“They even asked me if I’d mind having my treatment at James Cook. It’s hard enough having to get to Northallerton. I cant get to Middlesbrough.”
Mr Peacock has asked for his treatment instead to be provided at Darlington Memorial Hospital because it is easier to get a bus from Reeth.
He was also given a number for a community transport service, but when he rang them he was put through to an office on Teesside and the operator said it was unlikley one of their drivers would be prepared to come to Reeth, and if they did it would be 45p per mile from the driver’s door, meaning a potential total bill of £100.
“It’s just another way of them closing down the Friarage I think,” he added.
Commenting on the changes, Upper Dales county councillor John Blackie has accused the two health bodies of acting in “cavalier fashion” in applying new criteria for the use of the patient transport services without consultation.
He added: “It has also neglected the needs of the deeply rural communities in the remote areas of the county, especially in the Upper Dales, as the changes it proposes will have the greatest impact on those patients who live furthest from the hospitals they need to access.
“Long bus journeys make attending an appointment an all-day trek, and you cannot get from Hawes to The James Cook University Hospital on Teesside and back in a day.
“A voluntary car from the James Cook to Hawes costs £55 for a single trip, a taxi from Reeth to The Friarage costs £60. These are eye-watering amounts especially if you have to go regularly.
“Making a case with the YAS controllers for a PTS car is akin to a third degree cross-examination and because they are urban-based they have little idea of the travelling difficulties those who live in the remote area have to overcome.”
Cllr Blackie added: “This is the HRW CCG at its disingenuous best, if not a tad duplicitous, but sadly this is par for the course for this unresponsive and uncaring organisation.
“I call for proper, meaningful consultation with the local communities, and until this has been accomplished, the changes in PTS service should be suspended.”
The patient transport service is provided by Yorkshire Ambulance Service for eligible people who are unable to travel by other means due to their medical condition and who need to attend hospital outpatient clinics and community-based care, are being discharged from hospital or need regular treatment.
Gill Collinson, chief nurse of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG), said the way patient transport was booked and allocated had been reviewed with YAs, as part of the trust’s “commitment to provide the best quality transport service for patients with the greatest medical needs” and to ensure they stayed within the allocated budget.
She added: “This has included looking at how the existing criteria are applied when journeys are booked.
“CCGs are not statutorily required to provide transport for patients other than emergency and via PTS to those eligible.
“It is therefore vital that NHS-funded transport is only used by patients who are eligible due to their clinical and/or mobility needs.
“From 1 October 2018 when transport is booked, the booker will be asked a refreshed series of questions designed to ensure that criteria applied is done so consistently and fairly.
“The same questions will be asked if patients book their own transport or if transport is arranged on their behalf. The YAS reservations team will ask about the patient’s medical needs, mobility and general transport arrangements – much like they do now.”
The officer said that the questions may result in a different outcome than previously received.
She added: “Even if a patient has received transport in the past, they may no longer be eligible for future journeys. In addition, patients will be asked the questions each time they book transport as their circumstances may change.
“Patients who are found not to be eligible will be signposted to other schemes including voluntary car schemes – many of which are subsidised and therefore have a capped maximum cost.
“By refreshing the application of the eligibility criteria which follows national guidance, it will allow us to be assured that YAS is providing the best quality service to the patients who need it most by ensuring transport is reliable and on time, in line with agreed standards and investing in the most suitable equipment and vehicles for patients who require medical support during their journey.
“This is not considered a major change in service provision.”
Refreshed application of the eligibility criteria has already been introduced across other areas of North Yorkshire, the trust said.
It added that it would monitor feedback from patients and the service over the coming months.