A damning report, Sick of Waiting by the transportforall, the excellent body campaigning for disabled people to have proper access to transport across the capital, reveals what everybody thought but nobody knew: disabled people have a lousy patient transport service in London.
As I report in this week’s Tribune magazine a survey of 200 disabled patients found that 37 per cent had missed an appointment due to failures by patient transport and almost half had arrived late for appointments over the past two years. Nearly all of this, as the report shows, was provided by newly privatised services.
A staggering 90 per cent had never been told that they could be eligible for financial help to get to hospital under the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme while more than half were never told about patient transport when they booked an appointment.
But the health trust that really took the biscuit was Hillingdon Hospital Trust.Not only did they provide one of the worst personal examples of being ultra unhelpful – but they revealed that they had a questionnaire to weed out those they did not want to provide patient transport.
The personal case involved Robin who had previously been taken to hospital by a brother and Hillingdon expected this to continue. But the brother had moved to Spain. And guess what, Hillingdon expected him to come back and take her ( no doubt quoting cheap flights by easyjet – I made that latter point up!)
But the most extraordinary example was the disclosure through a freedom of information request was a questionnaire used by Hillingdon to assess whether people should get patient transport in the first place.
This included the questions ” Do you go shopping?” and “do you ever (my emphasis) go to the pub/cinema/ bingo? ”
I put this to the press office of Hillingdon and they replied: “The Trust does not discriminate against any of its patients. On occasion – for example where someone is very clearly able-bodied – the hospital’s transport team will ask people how they usually get around.
“This is to see if they are capable of getting to and from hospital without using patient transport as we want to ensure this valuable resource is available for those that really need it. This is in line with guidance from the Department of Health.”
I then sent back their own response to the FOI which listed the questionnaire they gave to ALL patients requiring transport. And the press office admitted they didn’t even know about it when they replied disclaiming the story.
They promised the transport manager would respond. And then they found he had taken leave of absence. So might I if a pesky journo was asking embarrassing questions about a dodgy practice.
Perhaps Hillingdon is overrun with bingo playing, binge drinking, shopaholics all demanding hospital appointments, but I very much doubt it.
Of course not all trusts were as bad as Hillingdon. The report praised Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust for its excellently managed patient transport service and the Royal Marsden came out well.
But far too many didn’t and some of the stories of the way disabled people were treated were callous and heart breaking.
Transportforall is laying down a new patients charter, demanding minimum standards, minimum waiting times and real transparency about the services provided by the private and public sectors. Nor is this confined to London. The report cites problems in Kent, Manchester,Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Coventry, Somerset, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leeds and Suffolk..
It is time this issue went right up the political agenda. As the report says:” a national solution is needed”.
What about it, Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham?