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Hosptial Transport

Hospitals are famous for their excessive parking charges.  It is perhaps a delicious irony that motorists facing long waits for delayed appointments get hit with even higher parking charges- That’ll teach them to use public or hospital transport!- Except that they are equally horrible to non-motorists too.

 Examples include:

  • A woman told by the Royal Sussex hospital in Brighton to attend for a procedure well before public transport started running and who was unlikely to be able to drive afterwards who was told that her appointment would be cancelled unless SHE could tell them how she would get to and from the hospital.
  • A woman with no access to a car living in north Ringmer quite a long way from the bus stop, who was expected to travel to the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath for regular appointments by public transport – a journey that would have involved changing at least 3 bus or train journeys from the nearest bus stop, all with probable significant waits.
  • Your editor, who was discharged from Eastbourne General, barely able to walk and having arrived in an ambulance, was told to make his own way home.

 The problem is made worse because the NHS is retreating from providing local services and is also redeveloping hospitals away from central locations.  We are fortunate to still have the Victoria hospital, but of our 3 main local hospitals 2 have out of town locations.  There is no main hospital that you can get to without changing bus or train (unless you can get the rare 143 bus to Eastbourne General.)

 Most patients are too desperate to get the treatment they need to kick up a fuss, but it is interesting that in each of the three cases above the hospital was challenged and did either provide transport or refund the taxi fare.

 This is what is supposed to happen:

  • If you are attending an initial appointment arranged because of a referral by a GP then the GP practice should arrange and pay for any transport that is needed.
  • Any subsequent appointment, or where you are admitted in an emergency, is the responsibility of the hospital.
  • If you are able to travel by public transport or other means you should do so.
  • If you travel by public transport but are on a low income then you can claim the money back.  Note that hospitals will not pay for taxis.
  • Otherwise hospital transport should be provided.

 The practice is a little different.   The Princess Royal and the Royal Sussex are part of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust. astbourne General is part of the East Sussex Trust, which also manages Lewes Victoria Hospital.

 You will find it difficult to find information about patient transport on how to apply for it on the web sites of the individual hospitals and trust.

 East Sussex Trust does, however make it clear that if you could get into a taxi then they will not provide hospital transport- But if you are on a low income it will not refund the cost of that taxi.  They say that otherwise transport will be provided in accordance with trust policy- but they do not say what that is or how to apply for transport.  My own enquiries have revealed that the trust expects wheelchair users to make their own way to the hospital by car, bus or taxi. Even if they only way you can get to the hospital is in a car- and you do not have access to one the trust will consider that you do not need transport.  The trust provides no information on which public transport services going to its hospitals take wheelchairs.

 The Brighton and Sussex trust is a little more helpful and has a web site page  with contact details. (note that the Blubird service that they mention does not cover Lewes) However their policy appears to be much the same as East Sussex’s.  In practice they seem to be a little more flexible.

 Lewes Community Transport tells me that both trusts have declined to fund them to provide trips to hospitals and that therefore they are unable to do so.

 So what do you do if you need transport to hospital?

 The first thing is to ask for it.  Hospitals provide no information in order to get you to think that it is your own problem. (I’m told that the waiting room in casualty at Eastbourne has a notice to the effect that “Just because you came in an ambulance  that doesn’t mean that we will provide one on your way home!) Obviously, if you can easily use the public transport then you should do so.

 Do not be put off by suggestions that you may have to wait for hours.  You are likely to have to wait, but not as long as often gets suggested.

 If you are refused you will have to find your own way home. You may want to complain.  This may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but is worth doing if (a) you want to make things better for others or (b) you will have to attend on a regular basis.  This is how to do it.  (The advice is good for any NHS complaint.)

 1) Ignore the Patient Advice and Liaision Service (PALS)  This service was set up as a sop to patients some years ago when Community Health Councils, who had been effective in promoting patients interests, were abolished.  It has no clout and hospitals know this.

 2) Write a letter of complaint.  For the Brighton Trust send your complaint to the Complaints Manager,

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Eastern Road Brighton BN2 5BE or email . complaints@bsuh.nhs.uk  For East Sussex send it to the Complaints Manager East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. St Anne’s House, 729 The Ridge, St. Leonards-on-Sea East Sussex TN37 7PT or email complaints@esht.nhs.uk .  Say simply what you think went wrong, how this caused you problems and what should be done now.

 3) There are time limits in which the organisations should reply- normally a month.  When you get the reply you may be happy.  But if you are not then there is another stage to go through.  The reply should tell you how to do this.  Complain again, this time to the chief executive, at the same address.  Do this even if the reply is signed by or on behalf of the chief executive.  Say why you think the first reply did not meet your concerns and say again what you want to happen.  This second stage may appear a waste of time, but decisions do get changed at this point.

 4) If you are still unhappy then you can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman  For more information about this see www.ombudsman.org.uk/can_the_ombudsman_help_you/index.html

 I’m a great fan of formal complaints procedures.  Using them is far better than blowing up at some unfortunate junior member of staff who probably has no power over the way things are done.  The English are far too inexperienced at giving effective feedback.  But if you complain I think you have duties to compliment where appropriate too.  Particularly in the NHS front line, staff regularly perform miracles about which the senior management know nothing.  Tell them. You can use the addresses above to do this too.