NON-EMERGENCY ambulances taking patients to and from hospital will now be allowed to use bus lanes in Oxfordshire.

The change follows talks between the South Central Ambulance Service and Oxfordshire County Council.

The transport service vehicles are used to move patients who may not have access to or be able to use public transport.

The agreement follows a campaign from pressure group Patient Voice.

Group member John Lant said: “It seemed illogical to us that people who are sick by definition, because they are going to hospital, should have to wait with normal traffic when certain vehicles, other than ambulances, can use the bus lanes.

“The job of these vehicles is to fetch patients who are too sick to go on public transport. These are people who cannot walk very far or need assistance with oxygen.

“Getting these people to and from home as soon as possible is a question of human kindness.”

Emergency ambulances, along with buses and taxis, could already use bus lanes.

Dianna Ball, the ambulance trust’s patient transport service business manager, said: “Improving patient experience is at the centre of all we strive to achieve in the service.

“We’re delighted that a significant improvement to patient journey times has been achieved by working together with Oxfordshire County Council and Patient Voice to secure the use of bus lanes by our vehicles in Oxfordshire.”

As revealed in Wednesday’s Oxford Mail, the patient transport service could be cut back to save money.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is proposing taking up to £325,000 out of the budget for the service by changing the criteria for eligibility for free transport to hospital appointments.

The ambulance service has 48 patient transport vehicles, which did 96,000 journeys in 2013-14.

Vehicles that use a bus lane without permission can be fined by the county council.

In June last year, the county council had said it was not taking the idea forward, because there was no clause in the bus lane regulations to allow for it but the council has had a change of heart.

David Nimmo Smith, the council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “This will be of great benefit to the ambulance service and the people that use it, and I’m pleased that we have been able to make it possible.”