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'Very little improvement' to non-emergency transport, says watchdog

Patients are seeing 'very little improvement' in their experience of hospital transport Credit: ITV Wales

Improvements still need to be made to non-emergency hospital transport, more than a year after a critical report, says a leading health watchdog.

The Board of Community Health Councils in Wales say there's been 'very little improvement in terms of patient experience' of the service since its report in January 2018.

John Pearce, the new chair of the Board of CHCs, said: "I think the key issue is 'are patients actually getting to their appointments at the right time and in the right way?' Quite frankly that's not happening at the moment."

It comes after the publication of a report at the beginning of the last year - 'Non-emergency patient transport: the picture across Wales' - which was largely critical of the non-emergency service.

Recommendations included making 'booking arrangements...simpler and easier for patients', keeping them 'properly informed about their transport options', and ensuring 'a suitable range of transport options is available' for those in need.

Dan Duckfield says vehicles aren't equipped to take his guide dog Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Dan Duckfield, from Narberth in Pembrokeshire, is blind and a guide dog user. He's also had a foot amputation and visits hospitals weekly. Dan lives alone, so relies on hospital transport to get him to and from appointments, but says the vehicles he's sent usually don't come up to scratch.

I have these issues every time I go, every time. very rare it comes up that they send me a car I can actually walk my dog onto. It makes me feel as if I'm absolutely useless. It's bad enough being blind, it's not fun having to fight everybody every time you go to the hospital.

– Dan Duckfield

The 64 year old told ITV News that one driver had refused to have his guide dog in the car. Another appeared so unhappy about it that he drove at '70, 80, 90 miles per hour' down to the hospital.

Dan also claims to have been left waiting for up to 5 hours for a lift back home following his appointment.

Another patient who's been left frustrated is Sarah Griffiths from Abergavenny. Sarah - who has a rare genetic disorder which affects her eyesight and mobility - stopped using hospital transport after a vehicle was late, causing her to miss her appointment.

Sarah Griffiths says transport was late and refused to take her carer Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

I found it terrible, looking at the time. I could feel butterflies in my tummy that they were going to be late. So yeah, I dreaded it every time.

– Sarah Griffiths

Sarah also says the ambulance service refused to take her mother, then her primary carer. She now spends around £100 a year on taxis, a cost for which she isn't reimbursed.

The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust said it was sorry to anyone who'd had 'an experience with patient transport that didn't meet their needs.'

They also told ITV News that they'd invested in 100 new vehicles over the past two years and recently introduced a national booking line, to make it easier for patients to get 'a consistent and high quality service.'

Mark Harris, the interim boss of the non-emergency patient transport service, said the 'phone number would soon be available on the new Welsh Ambulance website, as well as being shared with hospitals and possibly displayed in vehicles.

I think it's also important to remember that we do seven hundred thousand journeys a year, and the majority go very well. If patients are concerned that there transport is going to be late through the day, I'd ask them to contact us and we can advise them where their transport is and possibly contact the hospital on their behalf.

– Mark Harris, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust

The trust said they'd spoken to both Sarah and Dan, with Dan telling ITV News that things had improved since we filmed with him.

But, while welcoming their efforts, the authors of last year's report told us the trust's efforts were still not filtering down to other patients.

As patients become more confident that the offer of transport meets their requirements, and allows them to engage with medical intervention, we'll see a different outcome in terms of our review. But at the moment we're not seeing those improvements.

– John Pearson, Chair, Board of Community Health Councils in Wales

So it seems there's still plenty of work to do.

Going to hospital is a stressful experience at the best of times. Most would agree that the least patients should expect is a decent journey there and back again.