Rhoda asks to meet ambulance Chief Executive as patient transport problems continue in Sutherland

25 August 2016

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has written to the Scottish Ambulance Service’s Chief Executive Pauline Howie asking for a meeting following continuing complaints that patients’ and carers’ voices are being ignored in Sutherland.

The MSP, who represents the Highlands and Islands, has also requested that the meeting be held in Lochinver, following the wishes of a group of residents who met with her to discuss the issue this week.

Mrs Grant met Assynt Community Council’s chairman, David Slator, and a group of six residents in Lochinver Village Hall after receiving complaints about the ambulance service’s Patient Transport Service in North and West Sutherland.

The group, consisting of patients, carers and concerned residents, complained of “getting the third degree” from ambulance staff when trying to book Patient Transport for regular hospital appointments either for themselves or for their partners.

There were also complaints about the lack of cover when the driver was on holiday or off sick and of transport being cancelled at the last minute causing distress for some elderly patients and of the extensive area covered by the service.

And, in some instances, carers, who wanted to travel with their partners on patient transport, were told there was no room in the vehicle when subsequently there was no-one else travelling that day.

It was pointed out there was no longer a bus service which would allow people from the area to travel to Raigmore Hospital and back in the same day, due to Highland Council subsidy cutbacks.

“It was distressing to hear at first-hand patient and carers’ experience of the service,” said Mrs Grant.

“The general feeling was that the ambulance service was being managed by people in the central belt who had no idea of the distances and the problems of receiving health care in a remote, rural area.

“I was particularly concerned to hear from one woman that she had to ‘psych herself up’ to ring to arrange for an appointment for her husband due to the repeated questioning from ambulance staff.

“People told me that they did not want to abuse the service, they only wanted to use it when they had the need for it.”

Mrs Grant previously received a letter from Health Secretary Shona Robison which recommended a multi-agency group be established to identify potential solutions to the co-ordinations of the timing of hospital appointments and the provision of Patient Transport.

It was reported this week that there had been no progress in setting this up.

Earlier this year Mrs Grant met with SAS after receiving complaints about the service in the area.

She wrote to them again in March after receiving reports that a woman in her 80s had spent £100 on a taxi to a hospital appointment as she had no car and there was no public transport.

Previously SAS told Mrs Grant it had been working to improve its processes to make sure the Patient Transport Service was as “patient centred and efficient as possible”.

In July it said it was going to be closely monitoring capacity management across Scotland and from this month (August) ambulance control centres would be advising on the point of booking whether they had capacity to support transport requests.

This is intended to provide patients with the opportunity to reschedule appointments in advance to move suitable day/time or to seek alternative transport arrangements.

SAS said the intention was to prevent late notice cancelling of Patient Transport.