The leader of a GP’s group behind a cost-cutting move to reduce the number of people using ambulances for non-emergency appointments has faced a wall of criticism.
Janet Probert, chief officer of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) was told the restrictions on who could use the Patient Transport Service (PTS) with no notice since October 1 had created chaos and distress for many vulnerable people.
At a meeting of Richmondshire District Council’s scrutiny committee, Mrs Probert emphasised that the CCG needed to look for ways to balance its books as it would be £3m in deficit this year, if it achieved its target spending.
She told members there had been a steady increase in number of people using the PTS in recent years and a review had highlighted that some users did not meet the national criteria to receive paid transport.
Mrs Probert added that the CCG did not receive extra funding from Government to cover the cost of transporting patients across England’s largest county.
She said, as a result, only patients who regularly attended renal therapy, radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment would be automatically eligible for transport.
The cases of others, she said, would be determined by an algorithm.
Mrs Probert said ahead of launching the system, the CCG tested it on 200 people in its area.
She said: “All we are trying to do is use our money wisely. We are trying to be very transparent and very fair. I accept there is a bigger issue about transport [provision in rural areas], but it is not the responsibility of the NHS to fund that.”
Councillor Geoffrey Linehan said decisions on whether patients received PTS needed to be decided on a case by case basis rather than an algorithm.
He said: “The system has gone completely wrong. They are elderly people. They are saying we might as well stay home and die, we’re not going to bother try getting taxis.
“It’s a complete nonsense. Go out to consultation and see how many replies you get back saying you should be putting some money into this yourselves if the Government won’t do it.”
Councillor John Blackie told Mrs Probert the CCG’s move was causing havoc among the most vulnerable members of the Richmondshire community, and particularly among residents who could not afford alternative transport.
He said patients were missing appointments as a result, citing the case of a resident with cerebral palsy who was also acting as carer for his 97-year-old mother, who was refused PTS despite needing to be lifted out of vehicles.
Calling for the CCG to suspend the changes until after a public consultation, Cllr Blackie told Mrs Probert: “You have handled this appallingly badly.
“You haven’t cared for the people within your charge.”