Patient pays £200 for taxi to get to heart operation after rail strikes disrupt travel plans

Credit: ITV News/PA

Patients attending NHS appointments have shared their experiences of disruption as a result of the biggest rail strikes in a generation.

Graham Benton spent two hours in a taxi to travel from Portsmouth to London on Tuesday to attend his heart operation.

He says a train would have cost him £30, but instead he's now nearly £200 out of pocket.

Leading medics have stressed the NHS "remains open" as the health service prepares for disruption across the week caused by rail strikes.

'With the trains being cancelled, I've had to get a taxi this morning at 5:30'

Mr Benton is still unsure how he'll get home on Wednesday, after the procedure: "I'm not entirely sure how I'll get home. At the moment I'm being discharged tomorrow.

"So hopefully trains will be running in some form and I'll be able to get home".

He told ITV News: "I support the right to strike, I can see why they're striking but I do feel five days of disruption is a huge thing to go with".

'I can't get to London by train so I'm going to have to drive'

Garry Thomas lives in Herefordshire and has an appointment in London later in the week to investigate a lump in his neck. Though medics believe it's benign, Mr Thomas has a history of Hodgkins Lymphoma, so is undergoing further tests.

The appointment has already been delayed due to the Covid backlogue, he told ITV News.

"Finally I've got this appointment for Thursday at 11:30, but I can't really get to London by train so I'm going to have to drive. But I'm worried the congestion is going to be horrendous getting in to the appointment so I'm probably going to have to stay in a hotel which will be quite expensive, plus travel.

"Then my worry is, will the consultant make it? Will I get there having done all of that and then find that the appointments cancelled because the consultants and their team can't get to the hospital themselves? So it is a worry."

Mr Thomas said he did not support the strike and that workers "weren't doing themselves any favours at all".

Patients have been urged to plan ahead for appointments and hospitals have made arrangements to ensure staff will be on site - these include setting up park-and-ride services and taxi-sharing facilities.

Striking rail staff form a picket line at Nottingham Train Station. Credit: Zac Goodwin/PA

The strikes could have a particular impact on hospitals in London, many of which have limited parking capacity for those considering driving to appointments as an alternative.

While buses are still operating it is expected these will be busier than usual due to the strikes.

Rail worker strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are set to cause travel disruption across the country. Meanwhile strike action will also disrupt the London Underground on Tuesday.

Many trusts have urged patients to get in touch if they cannot attend their appointment due to strikes.

The Royal Free said in a statement: “Our hospitals will be open as normal but please do let us know in advance if you are unable to attend your appointment.”

King’s College Hospital said: “We recognise that some patients and visitors are likely to experience difficulty accessing our hospital sites on the strike days, but also on the days in-between.

“We would like to reassure patients and visitors that hospital services will continue as normal during this period.”

Passengers arrive at King's Cross on Monday, the day before strike action kicked off. Credit: PA

Meanwhile patients were warned of potential delays if they were late for appointments due to travel disruption.

Barts Health, one of the biggest trusts in London, said in a statement: “Our staff will be flexible with appointment timings, allowing for the fact that patients may be delayed on route.

“Please note that you may then experience a wait if you do arrive later than your specified appointment time. If you are delayed on your way to your appointment, please contact the team to let them know.”

Hospitals also warned of “busier than usual” car parks, particularly trusts based in outer London.

As well as affecting patient appointments, the strikes may also hamper NHS staff commutes.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know... 

Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London reminded patients that staff “will have the same difficulties in travelling in to offer appointments as you will”.

Some trusts have put extra measures in place to ensure staff cover during the travel disruption.

“Staff will be coming in, as usual, to ensure those who need us get the care they need. The trust has put a number of measures in place to ensure these staff are unaffected,” Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said in a statement.

The Trust told PA it had set up a temporary park-and-ride service for staff working at Epsom hospital and it has also expanded its shuttle bus service.

Staff are also being encouraged to cycle, walk or car share while those who can work from home are being asked to do so.

Central and North West London NHS Trust, which provides a range of services including mental health care and sexual health services, added: “Our wards will be fully staffed (we have plans to make sure staff can get to work).”

On Friday, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “With rail strikes expected across the country next week, I am urging those who have appointments booked in to plan ahead and look at alternative options for getting to their GP practice or hospital if needed.

“The NHS sees millions of people every week for urgent and routine care and it is vital that people access the care they need despite disruptions – the NHS remains open, so please do continue to come forward.”