24 July 2017
A 61-year-old woman with a brain condition has been told she must find £200 out of her own pocket to cover costs to travel to Newcastle for an operation.
Mary Ramsay, who has a condition called Essential Tremor, has been booked for surgery at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary on July 27 with her expected discharge four days later on July 31.
She has electrodes in her brain, likened to a pacemaker for the brain, which helps alleviate her tremor. The electrodes have moved slightly and Mrs Ramsay needs an operation to realign them.
Due to her condition, she cannot travel alone and needs her 60-year-old husband to drive her the 560-mile round trip from her home in Inverness.
The couple, who are both on benefits, have been told by NHS Highland that they can receive £300.80 for their travel and accommodation expenses.
However, Mr and Mrs Ramsay, who live in Dalneigh, have already paid about £500 in advance for the cost of accommodation, as it is in peak holiday season and because the health authority had previously paid for accommodation for them both.
NHS Highland has now told Mrs Ramsay its travel policy “is not designed to fully reimburse patients for the cost of travelling and necessary accommodation to attend an appointment, but to provide a contribution towards the cost.”
It is willing to pay accommodation for the couple on the night before Mrs Ramsay’s operation and the night after she is discharged at the rate of £36 each for each night. And, it will also pay the mileage for Mr Ramsay to go down the day before the operation, return to Inverness the next day and then make the return trip when his wife gets out of hospital.
“It is just ludicrous that a patient with a disability, on benefits and in need of a carer to accompany her, has to pay out of her own pocket to undergo a necessary operation in England,” said Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant who has taken up Mrs Ramsay’s case.
“Mary didn’t pick Newcastle to travel to, that was the only option given by the health authority. I would question NHS Highland’s view that her husband should go down, return to Inverness then travel down again all in a matter of days. Mary feels she needs her husband for support as she is so ar away from home and who can blame her?
“This just highlights the dire state of finances at NHS Highland and the Scottish Government’s continued penny pinching and cutbacks. It really is shocking.”
Mrs Ramsay added: “It is ridiculous, really ridiculous. What we are talking about is the basic costs – meals aren’t paid for and neither is the real cost of accommodation.
“The train has difficulties because I need a wheelchair and I would still need a carer to come with me. This has really stressed me which is not good for my condition.
“I’ve been treated in Dundee before and would much prefer to go to Dundee or anywhere in Scotland instead of having to travel so far way.”
Mrs Ramsay is on a Personal Independence Payment and JobSeekers Allowance Supported meaning she does not need to apply for work. Her husband is on JobSeeker’s Allowance and is in the process of applying for Carer’s Allowance as he has recently left work to look after his wife.
Iain Addison, Head of NHS Highland’s Area Accounting, told Mrs Grant that there was “no clinical need for Mrs Ramsay’s escort (her husband) to be assisting her or be present whilst she is in hospital for those days between admission and discharge”.
“We contribute towards accommodation costs for them both for the night prior to admission and the night after discharge – this is reasonable given the distances involved,” he said.
“As per the Policy, escorts must return home at the earliest opportunity after the journeys, however if they choose to stay they must do so at their own expense. Escorts who are required to accompany a patient to and from hospital should return home and travel back to hospital on patients discharge. If they remain near the hospital, the limit of the contribution to the cost of accommodation is that of the second return journey which would otherwise have been required. This would be the case for Mrs Ramsay’s husband.”
He added: “I can confirm that the Policy has not changed since the previous visits that Mrs Ramsay has made to Newcastle. I understand that for previous admissions the length of stay in hospital has been shorter. The cost of the escort remaining near the hospital did not exceed that of the second return journey which would have been required should the escort have returned home in between admission and discharge. So the full cost of the accommodation contribution was paid in that instance.
“I do not believe we have unfairly treated Mrs Ramsay and her husband and have followed the agreed policy.”