Birmingham woman's medical taxi costs soar five-fold after service cuts trips to GPs

One woman from Birmingham told ITV News Central's Barnaby Papadopulos how transport costs had increased five-fold.

A woman from Birmingham has described the 'discrimination' she feels she faces, due to lack of accessible transport to get to GP appointments.

Karen Urwin, who lives in Kings Norton, developed an auto-immune condition which left her in hospital for eleven weeks.

Upon leaving, she had to make regular trips to her GPs - just a ten minute drive away - to receive treatments and attend physio appointments. Due to significant mobility issues affecting her ability to walk and use the bus, she relied on the local ring and ride service, operated by National Express in conjunction with Transport for the West Midlands.

When calling Ring & Ride in August, Karen said the operator told her to get a private taxi.

"She said no, we don't do private medical appointments anymore because we've have too many complaints about people not being there on time.

"I said, that's not an issue, I'll be booking it very early - and she said we don't do it. I was like, well now what do I do?"

As a result, her transport costs ballooned from around £7.80 a week to around £40 - a five-fold increase.

What is Ring & Ride?

According to its website, Ring & Ride provides "accessible, low cost transport to disabled people and people with walking difficulties."

"You can book a Ring & Ride accessible minibus to take you, children and an accompanying adult, door to door for local short journeys across the West Midlands urban area."

However, the service has now told ITV News Central that journeys to local GPs don't qualify .

"I was really struggling"

The cost of transport to medical appointments soared from £7.80 a week to around £40, Karen said. At a time when the cost of living is increasing, the five-fold increase was unsustainable.

"I was only managing on benefits at the time as I couldn't work, I was really struggling," she said.

"All the time you're thinking how can I cut back on the spending, because I've got to get to this appointment."

She also said she felt discriminated against due to a combination of the service being dropped, and the lack of other available options.

"I couldn't use the bus! I couldn't walk that far! I couldn't stand waiting tor the bus!" she said.

"There should be a cut price form of transport for people who are disabled or elderly."

Transport for West Midlands "really need to think again"

The Green local councillor for Druids Heath and Monyhull, Julien Pritchard, said he wanted the service to take action.

"Transport for West Midlands, and the ring and ride service, really need to think again about this," he said.

"It shouldn't be rocket science to develop a system to enable people to book ring and ride to go to the hospital or the dentist or doctors and still keep the service running."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Transport for West Midlands told ITV News Central that:

"The Ring & Ride service was set up to provide transport for social visits, shopping and days out for those whose restricted mobility means they are unable to access regular bus and rail services.

"Ring & Ride journeys are booked advance and are shared with other users. This means the journey time is fixed, so drivers cannot wait when appointments are delayed or overrun as there are other passengers onboard and waiting to be picked up.

"This is why we recommend customers contact their GP surgery or care provider to arrange transport in the first instance."