Patient goes blind in one eye after being refused hospital transport

James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

An elderly cancer and eye disease patient has gone blind in one eye after being left unable to reach urgent hospital appointments due to a strict transport rules being imposed by NHS bosses.

The North Yorkshire octogenarian said he “did not want to make a fuss” about being unable to make his chemotherapy appointment tomorrow, after suddenly becoming ineligible to use non-emergency ambulances provided by the NHS Patient Transport Service.

The elderly man’s case has emerged just days after Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) chief officer Janet Probert defended a cost-cutting move to limit the number of patients receiving the service.

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Mrs Probert assured Richmondshire councillors last week that renal therapy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy patients would automatically receive the transport as the CCG strived to reduce its predicted £3m deficit this year.

Councillors vented fury as they told the CCG boss that the “sudden enforcing of national rules” since October 1 on access to the transport service had created chaos for many vulnerable people, and in particular those who lived furthest from hospitals such as The Friarage, Northallerton, Darlington Memorial Hospital and James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

Councillor Geoffrey Linehan had warned Mrs Probert decisions on whether patients received transport needed to be decided on a case by case basis rather than an algorithm.

An Upper Dales Community Partnership spokeswoman said since last week’s meeting it had emerged the elderly patient, who needs regular injections for a degenerative eye disease and is currently undergoing chemotherapy, had been reassessed and refused patient transport despite living 60 miles from James Cook Hospital.

She said: “He is not financially well off so cannot afford over £50 for a taxi when he has appointments, as 45p per mile adds up considerably on a 120-mile round trip for an octogenarian to receive chemotherapy.

“His daughter has since discovered that he has missed at least two eye appointments as he was refused transport, but didn’t want to make a fuss.

“His sight has deteriorated significantly and he is now blind in one eye, possibly accelerated by missing these injections.

“He is quite reclusive so does not have friends and does not know his neighbours. Particularly not enough to be able to ask someone to spend an entire day on at least a 120-mile round trip, plus significant waiting time.”

Upper Dales councillor John Blackie, who has been calling for the transport scheme changes to be suspended, said the situation facing vulnerable patients was radically different to that which the CCG had outlined.

He said it appeared the elderly man had suffered due to an “over-zealous interpretation” of the rules by Patient Transport Service controllers.

Cllr Blackie said: “This sad and utterly unacceptable state of affairs, and the denial of the opportunities to improve the health of my constituent through his inability to access the hospital clinics he has appointments to attend, is entirely as a result of the stricter commissioning instructions of the CCG and presumably the over-zealous interpretation of them by the Patient Transport Service controllers.”

After being alerted to the elderly patient’s case, Mrs Probert said: “The CCG will look into any case where there are concerns that the application of the criteria or appeals process has not been correctly followed. We will be investigating through the formal process and are unable to comment on specific patient cases.”