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Pensioners left to pay for their own taxis to reach hospital

Elderly patients are told they’re no longer eligible for transport to Royal Free

22 June, 2018 — By Emily Finch

The Royal Free says patients on low incomes may be able to claim back their cab fares

A PENSIONER with lung disease and mobility problems was left in tears after being told she was no longer eligible for hospital transport, revealing a worrying trend of London hospitals forcing vulnerable patients to take expensive taxis.

Elizabeth Offiong, who lives on her own in Newington Green, was told that she could no longer take hospital-organised transport to the Royal Free because she had travelled to her recent GP appointment by taxi.

“I was crying. My blood pressure was so high when I was told I wasn’t eligible anymore,” she said.

The 84-year-old had a knee replacement a couple of years ago and relies on a walking aid to get around.

Ms Offiong was previously taken to her numerous appointments at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead by a specialised ambulance organised by the transport booking team at the hospital. But she was told two weeks ago to take a taxi to all her future appointments which will cost her around £45 for a return trip. She was also told she may not be compensated for the travel.

“I cannot pay for that,” she said.

Campaign group Islington Pensioners Forum stepped in to assist Ms Offiong in getting to her appointment this week but there is no guarantee she will be provided with hospital transport again.

“They were on the phone to the booking team for half-an-hour and managed to get transport arranged for me but in the future I don’t know what will happen,” she said.

Other pensioners had found themselves in a similar position, according to Ms Offiong.

She said: “There was one lady at the community centre I go to in Crouch End really depressed last week. We kept on asking her, ‘what’s wrong?’ and she said it was because the Royal Free was no longer helping her get to her appointments anymore. Others have said the same thing.”

Transport for All, a campaign group who push for better access to transport for disabled and elderly people, said they had seen a trend in vulnerable patients being told they had to pay for a taxi to their appointments at the Royal Free without compensation offered.

A spokesman for the group said: “There is a legal obligation to refund the mini-cab and taxi fares of those people who are unable to travel by public transport if they meet the eligibility criteria for the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme.”

They added: “We are very concerned. We have received dozens of phone calls in the past few months from disabled and elderly people concerned about lack of transport to the Royal Free and that is just the tip of the iceberg. We are trying to understand what is going on and what’s changed at the hospital.”

A spokesman for the Royal Free said: “The criteria for outpatients accessing non-emergency transport is set by the Department of Health and Social Care, not by the trust. Patient transport is for those whose clinical condition means that travelling by any other means would slow down their recovery. This criteria has not changed. Patients on a low income or no income may be eligible for reimbursement through the healthcare travel costs scheme run by the NHS.”

At the time of going to press, the Royal Free had not confirmed whether they would reimburse taxi fares under the scheme.


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