Cash-strapped Barts Health spends £2m a month on taxis for patients attending non-emergency appointments
PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 February 2019
The cash-strapped trust that runs Newham, The Royal London and Mile End hospitals is spending £2million a month taxiing patients to and from non-emergency appointments, it has been revealed.
Barts Health, which also runs Whipps Cross and St Bartholomew’s hospitals, has been giving thousands of lifts to patients who would be not eligible under Department for Health guidelines despite being in special measure over its finances.
Up to 2,000 patients a month also fail to cancel journeys they no longer need, costing the NHS thousands, according to a report.
To claw back money the trust is now planning to prioritise patients who need the service most and ban people who consistently don’t cancel transport for appointments they are not attending.
The health trust said it gives 30,000 lifts a month.
An estimated 12.5 per cent of people who currently receive free transport will have it removed under the new guidelines.
Barts brought its taxiing service in-house in 2017 after almost half of patients needing dialysis were late for appointments when it was run by an outside company.
Last year more than 90 per cent of patients arrived on time, according to a Inner North East London Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee report.
However, the service is now “not sustainable in the long run if demand keeps increasing”.
“In recent years the Department of Health’s eligibility rules have not been implemented or followed effectively,” the report states.
“The result was that the number of users rose by 10 per cent a year – impacting on both the quality of the service received by those who need it most as well as driving up costs.
“Too many patients fail to cancel their journeys when they choose not to attend appointments. This means vehicles regularly arrive to transport patients to hospital, only to be told the patient is not travelling. In some months more than 2,000 journeys have been aborted as patients failed to cancel their transport request.”
Earlier this month, NHS Improvement removed Barts from special measures for quality, but the trust, which is expected to record an £84.7m deficit in 2018-19, remains in financial special measures.
A spokesman for Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We are improving the way that we provide patient transport to prioritise people who require transportation on medical grounds, and to be in line with other hospitals and guidance from the Department of Health.
“Eligibility criteria has not been used for the last three years during which time we have seen a 10 per cent year on year increase in activity, currently providing 30,000 journeys per month – the equivalent to travelling three times around the world.
“Overall the changes, which were developed with clinicians and patients, will improve the service and experience for our most vulnerable patients by reducing delays to access.
“It is important that patients also let us know as soon as possible if they no longer require transport which will enable us to more quickly offer transport to someone else.”