One in four disabled people miss hospital or GP appointment due to lack of transport – Healthwatch Suffolk report
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One in four disabled people miss a hospital or doctor’s appointment due to a lack of transport in Suffolk, a health watchdog has warned.
Research by Healthwatch Suffolk also found one in three people living with a disability had an appointment changed at short notice and were left unable to access transport for a rearranged appointment.
Tony Rollo, chair of Healthwatch Suffolk, described the findings as “unacceptable” and called for health chiefs to take urgent action to improve transport services for the most vulnerable across the county.
He said: “We know that poor access to health services due to a lack of public transport or high transport costs is a significant barrier to accessing local services and amenities.
“It can have a major impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities and is a factor in rural isolation – a key focus of the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board.
“This situation is unacceptable and should be prioritised by decision-makers in Suffolk.
“Fundamentally, non-emergency patient transport and other transport services ensure that people leave hospital safely as soon as they are fit to do so. This has been a key focus of the Healthwatch network as highlighted in a recent national report that revealed the human and financial cost of getting discharge wrong.
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“Ensuring appropriate and well administered access to transport services will go some way to alleviating such problems.
“We believe simple steps could be taken to lessen some of the problems that people face and this includes improved communication between transport providers, changes in eligibility criteria to improve the experience of those who face lengthy ongoing treatments and improved signposting across services so that people know where they can find alternative help and support.”
The report, which has drawn together feedback from patients and community transport operators, also claimed the criteria for eligibility to access non-emergency patient transport services is “inconsistently applied” in Suffolk.
It told how one 86-year-old woman with a broken ankle was initially declined transport and told to get the bus. Other survey respondents with “diminishing health” were also once eligible but are now deemed ineligible.
The report said: “Many people rely on making their own way to hospital or on the good will of a friend or family member. Those without access to a car often rely on public transport, which can mean facing a lengthy and complex journey because bus routes are not always direct to hospitals. With an ageing population and increasing immobility, this must be a concern for the future wellbeing of people in Suffolk.
“Problems with transport are compounded by conditions that limit the options available to people. For example, one of the most common costs people living with cancer face is getting to and from their appointments, which can often total eight visits per month. Moreover, susceptibility to infection means that public transport is often unsuitable, forcing people to rely on travel by car or taxi.
“If the eligibility criteria for accessing patient transport services was extended, this would reduce the high financial impact on such individuals.”
The report has been given to “key stakeholders” across the healthcare system with recommendations including improving eligibility criteria, Healthwatch Suffolk added.