Ever play bingo, go to the pub,do shopping: no patient transport for you

Campaigners for better patient transport at transportforall assembly in London on October 7 pic credit: Christa Holka

Campaigners for better patient transport at transportforall assembly in London on October 7 pic credit: Christa Holka

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?




About time too! Inspectors to up their game on private ambulance companies

England’s private ambulance services need some tough discipline as companies – from bus firms like Arriva to parking firms like NSL ( formerly National Car Parks) rush to make profits providing patient transport.

 A report I have written for Tribune magazine this week reveals that already 50 per cent of patient journeys to care homes and hospitals are provided by the private sector and they are already eyeing up taking over 999 ambulance services, Such is the pace of privatisation under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The standards provided by some of the companies – as earlier blogs, including one from personal; experience reveal,- is little short of  cruel and appalling. I will be returning in future blogs to expose other bad  firms who show little care for elderly and disabled people except to swell their bosses’s salaries.

However there is some good news. The Care Quality Commission –  whose job it is to monitor hospitals, care homes and ambulance services – is planning to up its game. It is reviewing its entire inspection  system of both private and public ambulance services – for both patient transport and emergency responses.

 The  decision is contained in a report from the CQC  which reveals that  Sir Michael Richards, chief hospitals inspector, has decided that this rather neglected side of the business deserves revamping. The report also discloses – as the CQC is the main registration for ambulance services  that already 50 per cent of patient transport journeys are carried out by private firms.

 Sir Michael ought to have done this sooner – he should know from, some of his own CQC inspections that some private firms were failing in the most basic way – like not bothering to check the criminal records of staff carrying vulnerable patients or whether they had proper training.

He is making big promises He says:  “Over the next three years we will develop a ratings system for most providers of health and social care.

“Our ratings will develop to become the single, authoritative assessment of the quality and safety provided by an organisation. They will be primarily based on the judgements of our inspectors about whether services are safe, effective, caring, responsive to people’s needs and well-led, but will also take into account all the information we hold about a service and the findings of others.”

Fine words, he better keep them. Unions like Unite and Unison are already warning about the deterioration of services and some of the people who have contacted me on this website have related appalling experiences. The only private firm that contacted me wanted the information  I reported about a bad inspection of their company  by the CGC removed from the internet. It shows you where they are coming from. Vigilance of these firms is going to be essential.