'It's atrocious' - Mum tells of hospital transport nightmare as patients resort to using taxis
PUBLISHED: 07:40 10 October 2019 | UPDATED: 07:41 10 October 2019
WEST SUFFOLK HOSPITAL NHS TRUST / SUPPLIED BY FAMILY
A 55-year-old Suffolk mum who has to endure four hours of dialysis three times a week has hit out at a private ambulance firm after her transport home from hospital was cancelled.
E-zec Medical took over responsibility for non-emergency patient transport services (NEPTS) in Suffolk - for patients whose physical or mental condition means they are unable to travel to routine NHS appointments without additional support - from the East of England Ambulance Service in April 2018. Approximately 88,000 NEPTS journeys are completed across the county each year.
Retail worker Janice Leach, from Bury St Edmunds, goes to West Suffolk Hospital three times a week for four-hour dialysis sessions, and is transported home by E-zec. But on Friday last week and Monday this week, her transport home was cancelled - she claims without reason.
It comes as Suffolk's NHS organisations prepare to meet this week and discuss a recovery plan currently in place at E-zec, prompted by concerns about late and missed pickups, communication issues and delays.
'Not good enough'
"The system is atrocious, it's just not working," said Mrs Leach.
"I don't feel it's the driver's fault, they are always helpful, but whoever is in charge of planning journeys and sending people out doesn't seem to have a clue. On Friday and Monday I came out of dialysis and was told my transport wasn't turning up, that it had been cancelled, but they didn't give any reason.
"The other week I finished dialysis at 6.30pm and wasn't picked up until 8.30pm, despite E-zec telling us they would be there in half an hour.
She added: "I get the bus to the hospital but once I've had my dialysis I really don't feel able to go home myself, it leaves me feeling drained, so they bring me home. They used to send a taxi on behalf of E-zec which I felt worked better, but that isn't happening as regularly anymore.
"It is unacceptable, and I know I'm not the only one this is happening to. It's not good enough."
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Suffolk's health bosses - including both hospital trusts, West Suffolk Hospital and the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich Hospital, the clinical commissioning groups and Healthwatch Suffolk - are due to discuss a recovery plan put in place at E-zec earlier this year at today's Health and Scrutiny Committee meeting at Suffolk County Council.
The recovery plan was prompted by patient concerns over late and missed pick-ups, communication and logistical issues.
Main concerns raised by patients, according to Healthwatch Suffolk, included:
Late pick-ups or failure to pick up, leading to:
- Missed appointments
- Increased cost of finding alternative travel
- Wellbeing of patients - i.e. diabetic patients are being left without insulin and patients left in wheelchairs for long periods of time
- Increased anxiety and distress due to late/missed pick ups
- Transport not turning up for dialysis patients
Communication problems, including:
- E-Zec not proactively contacting patients to warn of delays or problems with transport
- Difficulties getting through on the phone, or phone often going unanswered
- Staff not being realistic about when transport will arrive, or giving inaccurate/unrealistic information about timings
And logistical issues, such as:
- Drivers not having enough knowledge of local area
- Quality of vehicles (particularly when securing wheelchairs) not up to scratch
- Concerns that defibrillators aren't being carried on the vehicles or that drivers are adequately trained in using them
'People are resorting to private taxis'
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of the watchdog, said: "People have told us about their experiences and have raised legitimate concerns in the process. "Incidents of patients missing vital appointments due to uncommunicated late or missed pick-ups are common, with users resorting to using private taxis to get where they need to be on time.
"This not only affects a person's treatment, but could have a consequential impact on their health due to the added distress of delays.
He added: "Feedback isn't all negative. Some people do commend the positive and helpful nature of their drivers, which reflects the importance of establishing rapport with patients. However, it is unclear whether those tasked with transport are consistently trained for potential emergency situations which may occur during transit.
"We have raised these issues with the appropriate commissioners, specifically requesting details on how they will work with the provider in question to improve their service. This conversation will start at Thursday's Health Scrutiny Committee meeting and will be followed up in due course."
Representatives for E-zec did not respond to our requests for comment.