Suffolk: Blind woman is refused hospital transport
11:52 23 January 2013
AN 84-year-old woman who is registered blind has been told she no longer qualifies for NHS transport to her hospital appointments.
The Sudbury woman, who did not want to be named, suffers from macular disease and needs to attend a clinic at West Suffolk Hospital regularly for injections into her eye.
Her daughter contacted the EADT after reading how scores of sick people in the county are thought to be at risk of missing vital hospital appointments because they do not have access to transport.
Suffolk Community Transport (SCT), which supports the county’s 19 voluntary operators, has called for urgent talks with health bosses after several of its members reported they were struggling to cope with demand. They say the change has occured since the NHS tightened its criteria for providing patients with free lifts.
According to the woman, her elderly mother has accessed hospital transport for the past two years, which has helped her to remain independent until her sight fails completely. But she added: “When mum called the NHS last week to book transport for her appointment as usual, she was told she was no longer entitled. Her situation has not changed financially and I cannot understand why all of a sudden she is not deemed ‘disabled’ enough to qualify when her illness is getting worse rather than better.”
The NHS operator told the woman other options were available, but despite the appointment only being two days away, she did not offer any advice on where to find alternative transport. Her daughter continued: “The treatment my mother receives is very unpleasant, so getting public transport is not an option. I do not drive so I can’t take her. We are now frantically looking for a local transport group that might be able to help us.”
Valerie Allport of the Aldringham cum Thorpeness Good Neighbours Scheme also contacted the EADT because she said the hospital transport issue had become a “major concern” for the group. She added: “We often get asked for lifts to hospital appointments in Ipswich by people who have found difficulty getting assistance elsewhere. Bus travel is not an option for most of these people – either through infirmity or because the bus connections between here and Ipswich are simply not adequate.
“Whenever we can, we provide a volunteer driver, but for many of us the big issue is the time it takes not only to get to Ipswich, but also the time we have to wait at the hospital before returning.
“It is becoming more and more difficult for us to meet the need and with the best will in the world, it is simply not reasonable to expect volunteers to pick up the pieces of a much reduced system.”
A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said if a patient felt they had been unfairly declined access to free NHS-funded transport, they should contact the NHS Suffolk Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 0800 389 6819 to appeal against the decision. He added: “It is important to note that there have been no changes to the national Department of Health eligibility criteria for free NHS-funded patient transport, which is designed for those patients with specific medical needs. The priority is to ensure that those patients are able to easily access this service.”