Sudbury: Over-stretched community transport group blame NHS changes for extra work load

A COMMUNITY transport operator has put out an urgent plea for volunteer drivers to help a growing number of patients needing transport to medical appointments.

According to Go START, which operates in the Sudbury area, demand for its services has rocketed following changes to the NHS transport policy.

Group founder, John Phillips, said: “The recent NHS policy change has left many people unable to get to their appointments, which of course is a worrying situation.

“As a result, we are not able to cope with the increasing demand for hospital transport services, and on far too many occasions, we have had to deal with patients stressed and in tears worrying about how they will get to hospital for their appointments.”

He added: “We try never to turn anyone away, but with all our other commitments within the community we are struggling to meet the demand, and I know it is a similar situation for other community transport operators across Suffolk.”

Mr Phillips said the NHS in Suffolk and Norfolk had introduced a single point of assessment in 2011, preventing patients from accessing free hospital transport to their appointments simply by asking their GPs. According to Mr Phillips, the changes were largely introduced to save money by preventing patients who could afford to pay for their transport from requesting it for nothing.

But a spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust and NHS Suffolk said there had been no changes to the criteria for accessing hospital transport.

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He said: “National guidelines are now being applied properly to make the most appropriate use of taxpayers’ money instead of the adhoc situation previous to September 2011 where patients who were not eligible for free transport may nevertheless have been given it. No one eligible is being penalised and eligible patients continue to get free transport.”

Members of the public who are not eligible for free transport have been told about alternatives available, including community schemes, and NHS staff have been instructed to tell people that these may incur a donation to the scheme to make up the local authority contribution.

The spokesman added: “We would ask any organisations concerned about individual patients to contact us so we can look into their cases and resolve them properly.”

Mr Phillips said they desperately needed more drivers to ensure the organisation could maintain its current services and meet the extra demand.

Any volunteer drivers with a few spare hours a week are asked to call Go START on 01787 242116.