A report has revealed that patients in Bucks are finding it harder than ever before to access hospital services.
The report, published by Healthwatch Bucks, concluded that for many residents in the county the stress, anxiety and cost associated with getting to their appointments is a big issue.
The research was carried out by volunteers on behalf of the non-profit consumer organisation, which spoke to 416 people about their experiences of travelling to medical appointments.
The main findings of the report were that:
> Around 80% of people had not heard of any of the transport options and schemes that are available.
> Parking was a major issue, with some respondents arriving up to an hour before their appointments to ensure they could find a parking space.
> Over a quarter of people with no access to a car had a problem with getting to their appointments when relying on public transport, in particular bus services.
> Those living in both rural and urban communities still need further help and more or better publicised transport options.
Many people had issues with the lack of availability of parking spaces and high parking fees at Stoke Mandeville, Wycombe, Amersham and Wexham Park hospitals.
One patient said: “Transport is not an issue for me - it is parking which is the huge problem.”
A patient travelling to Oxford for radiotherapy sessions said: “I found it exhausting.
“The transport would pick me up around 9am for my 11.30am appointment but I would usually have to wait in the unit until about 5pm to be taken home. Then the same thing again the next day.”
On the issue of travel times to hospital the report said: “The longest travel times to hospital can be found north of Aylesbury Vale where in some parishes every single household we surveyed has access to a car.
“There are also some considerable travel times for communities on the east and west sides of the county, such as the South West Chilterns and Chesham.
“For these communities, travel became more difficult when the majority of hospital services were provided from Stoke Mandeville hospital.”
The report also said that 90% of those surveyed travelled by car, either driving themselves or getting lifts with people they knew.
Some took the bus, taxi or train and others went by a combination of car and bus to avoid car parking issues or difficult journeys by public transport.
Just over a quarter of respondents said they had difficulty when relying on public transport.
The biggest issues with bus services were timetable restrictions, bus pass restrictions, bus routes not being near hospitals and connecting buses not always matching up.
Regarding parking the majority of respondents said this was very difficult at hospitals with Stoke Mandeville and Wycombe mentioned frequently during the survey.
People indicated that they would often arrive up to an hour and a half before their appointment just to make sure they have sufficient time to find a car parking space.
People also commented on how expensive they believed the car parking charges were.
Concerns were also raised about where to park when collecting patients who needed support to get to their transport after treatment.
At Stoke Mandeville Hospital people reported that the short stay area was generally full of cars and is also placed at some distance from most of the outpatient clinics, day surgery units and wards.
It was also mentioned there was no covered walkway between the drop off point and the other buildings.
A number of people raised the issue of accessing A&E or other Stoke Mandeville Hospital services when public transport is not available or appropriate and described a range of different problems such as when an injury or illness prevented driving and there were no other drivers in the family, not having enough money to call a taxi to get help after an injury and not meeting the criteria for ambulance transport.
Patient comments on public transport included:
> No pavement between bus stop and pedestrian crossing at Stoke Mandeville Hospital
> Travelling between High Wycombe and Stoke Mandeville Hospital by public transport is very difficult
> No buses into Aylesbury in the early morning so have to take a taxi
> Appointments before 10.30am mean that it is impossible for people to use their bus passes
Patient comments on hospital-related issues at Stoke Mandeville included:
> Not enough parking and no covered area between drop-off point and main buildings
> Number of cars parked in drop off point beyond the permitted times – looked like long-term parking
David Williams, director of strategy at Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust said: ““We welcome the report.
“Although three quarters of the people surveyed said they did not consider that they had any difficulties in getting to hospital appointments, we recognise there is still more to do for some specific groups of patients.
“We will work with Healthwatch and partners, including the local council and Transport for Bucks, to continue to ensure services are as accessible as possible for patients across Buckinghamshire and make sure people are aware of the options available to them.
“We continue to fund free bus travel for patients, staff and visitors between our main sites, and have recently invested in a major scheme to provide around 400 extra spaces at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
“If patients wish to explore the options available, they are encouraged to contact www.buckshealthcare.nhs.uk.”
The full report can be accessed here: http://www.healthwatchbucks.co.uk/sites/default/files/hwb_transport_report_june_2015_1.pdf