Anger at James Paget travel cuts
PATIENTS are being left to struggle to hospital on the bus because of the growing impact of cuts to its volunteer-led transport scheme, it is claimed.One of the dozen volunteer drivers at the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston contacted the EDP yesterday to say he and his colleagues were enraged at the increasing upset and inconvenience being caused to patients - some of them suffering from cancer - stemming from the hospital introducing a new regime at the start of the year.
PATIENTS are being left to struggle to hospital on the bus because of the growing impact of cuts to its volunteer-led transport scheme, it is claimed.
One of the dozen volunteer drivers at the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston contacted the EDP yesterday to say he and his colleagues were enraged at the increasing upset and inconvenience being caused to patients - some of them suffering from cancer - stemming from the hospital introducing a new regime at the start of the year.
The man, who has been a volunteer for 15 years and asked to remain anonymous, said: “Before the penny-pinching began in January, I used to take 300 to 400 patients a month to and from the hospital. “Now they have cut right back and I am only carrying about 30 patients a week, and I fear that will be reduced even further.
“It is a disgrace what they are doing to people who need transport to hospital.”
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He said he knew of one patient now having to travel to hospital for chemotherapy under his own steam, and added that all the drivers could reel off examples of hardship.
“Imagine if it was your mother or father having to come in by bus,” he said.
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The volunteer said the hospital's new regime had involved setting up a special transport office; previously, patients had been put in touch with volunteer drivers by the ward staff who understood their needs.
“Even patients still being allowed to use the scheme are upset at being interrogated about whether they really need it.
“One lady who has cancer was asked if she was able to get the bus, and, when she said no, she was then asked how she managed to get her shopping,” he said.
The driver added that non-emergency hospital transport provided by volunteer drivers with the East of England Ambulance Service was so important at the James Paget because it covered such a large area, including Suffolk communities such as Halesworth and Saxmundham.
He added that the drivers under-took their duties as a community service and only received 38p a mile to cover petrol costs.
A spokesman for the hospital said that in the current financial climate it was seeking to ensure there was no abuse of the system.
He said: “We aim to ensure that our services are accessible to all and continue to offer non-emergency transport for patients, enabling them to get to hospital to attend appointments.
“This is available on a priority basis, where a clear medical need for patient transport is identified by our staff through respectful and sensitive dialogue with patients interested in using the service.
“Our eligibility criteria for non- emergency patient transport is in line with national guidance.”
The spokesman added: “We are very grateful for the work of our dedicated volunteer drivers, who continue to play a key role in delivering the service for the benefit of patients.”
A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said the criteria for its non-emergency patient transport scheme remained unchanged, focusing on people with health-related difficulties rather than those with transport or money issues.