Patient transport restrictions to be eased

Photo: Graham Richardson.

NHS bosses will ease a controversial regime restricting the number of people receiving free transport to hospital appointments in the coming weeks, it has emerged.

A review of imposing national eligibility criteria for the Patient Transport Service (PTS) across North Yorkshire had highlighted that the issues of “distance and rurality” needed addressing, a spokesman for four clinical commissioning groups (CCG) said.

John Darley, speaking on behalf of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby, Scarborough and Ryedale, Harrogate and Rural District and Vale of York CCGs, added it had become “clear and obvious” that eye injection patients should not be expected to make their own way for treatment.

The announcement, made to district councillors in Richmondshire, where  the “refreshed” PTS regime has sparked an outcry, was met with scepticism by some members and given a cautious welcome by others.

Upper Dales independent county councillor John Blackie listed notice of motions at both Richmondshire District Council and North Yorkshire County Council when the refreshed criteria was introduced requiring the health trusts to respond to the concerns he has raised.

He said: “The new criteria has caused extreme anxiety amongst the elderly and vulnerable living in the more rural areas of the county, amongst whom there are patients who suddenly found they were being refused a PTS service they had received regularly in the past and instead were being left abandoned, unable to access important appointments at far distant hospitals with no way including using public transport of getting there to attend them.

“I welcome the return of the recognition of distance, rurality and lack of public transport into the eligibility criteria and the lifting of the absurd provision of one way PTS journeys for those needing eye injections, although these key factors should never have been removed by the HRW CCG in the first place.

He added: “The changes need to be introduced immediately and indeed go further to address the understandable anxiety they have raised.

“The HRW CCG acted irresponsibly by introducing its new criteria without any meaningful consultation or warning, so the sooner it returns to what worked well in the past and brought peace of mind the better. Like starting tomorrow please.”

Papers circulated to members of the council’s scrutiny committee by Cllr Blackie have detailed five cases of elderly, seriously ill and eye condition patients being refused the PTS and also featured concerns about the pressures being added to a charity due to the regime.

A coordinator for community support charity Leyburn Good Neighbours wrote: “We have recently noticed a surge in demand for transport to both Northallerton Friarage and Darlington Memorial hospitals for medical appointments. In all cases the clients reported that they had been told they were ineligble for PTS and that they should contact us instead.”

Mr Darley said a meeting between Yorkshire Ambulance Service, which runs the criteria tests and provides the PTS, and the CCGs earlier this week had examined views aired at North Yorkshire County Council’s Scrutiny of Health Committee and the findings of patients’ appeals against being refused PTS.

He revealed all 20 patients who had appealed against being refused PTS in Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby had been found to be eligible for the service.

Mr Darley said: “There were some common themes – distance and rurality, particularly in Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby, particularly for frail elderly patients.

“That was clearly something we needed to look at. The second thing that was clear and obvious was people, often the elderly, going for eye injections, but not eligible for inbound transport because they have a car and can drive, but once they’ve had the injection they can’t drive safely home, so it becomes a bit of a nonsense for patients.

“I want to build into the eligibility check something that recognises distance and complexity of travel and transport to hospital. To set into the eligibility something around the number of miles you are from home to the destination hospital would gain you a significant number of points towards your eligibility.”

Mr Darley stated the new regime had got off to “a bad start” in the Richmondshire area after a typing error led to a dialysis patient being refused the service and while patients had told him they were considering cancelling operations after being refused PTS, but no one had actually cancelled.

He added: “We have not see DNA [does not attend] rates change from any hospital.”

After Mr Darley repeatedly told councillors the PTS regime was “not about cost-cutting”, members told him how Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG’s chief officer had emphasised to them that was its purpose as the CCG needed to look for ways to balance its books as it would be £3m in deficit this year.

Mr Darley said the regime was being enforced to ensure patients who genuinely needed PTS could get to where they needed, when they needed to.