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Free ambulances face axe for 6,200 patients
UP to 6,200 residents – including about 250 cancer patients – will lose free ambulance transport to hospital under plans out for consultation from today.
As reported in the Oxford Mail last month, health bosses want to axe about a quarter of planned patient transport journeys for the most able, even though they admit this could see people not attending appointments.
The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) has now revealed 6,209 people – mostly OAPs – would lose journeys under one option, saving £795,833 a year, and 5,571 under a second option, saving £602,999.
But Headington’s Dave Beesley, in remission from prostate cancer, said: “I have been through 37 days of radiotherpay in seven-and-a-half weeks.
“For some people, especially middle aged people, going through that experience is quite traumatic anyway, let alone worrying about getting to and from the hospital.”
The 65-year-old added: “It would be a real shame if they pulled that service.”
The first option, under the proposals, would stop free transport to an expected 247 cancer, 87 renal and 304 podiatry patients if they are attending a clinic, but not receiving treatment.
About three quarters of journeys are for residents aged between 60 and 89.
The OCCG said changes are needed as it has the lowest per head funding in England and demand for care is rising as residents live longer and have more complex needs. Patients “capable of walking and getting in and out of vehicles unaided” or “requiring minimal assistance from a single ambulance crew member” will lose free transport.
An OCCG report said: “It is essential that the CCG uses its money to support and treat those in most need.
“Many patients, with conditions such as cancer, are able to travel to or from healthcare appointments by public or private transport without detriment to their wellbeing.”
Eligibility for transport was tightened in 2011, including for those who cannot walk or stand for “more than a few steps”. This has seen journeys for those who walk unaided drop from 41,104 in 2010/11 to 31,502 in 2013/14.
But the other group set to be hit – those needing “minimal assistance” – rose from 15,782 to 21,278 in this time and the OCCG estimates it will continue to rise to about 2,700 a month by March 2020.
It said “friend’s or relative’s car, taxi, public or voluntary transport” are alternatives for those who lose out.
But it said if the toughest criteria was chosen, community services would be “unlikely to have capacity to absorb substantial increase in demand”.
And it said: “Patients required to travel by their own means may choose not to attend appointments to the detriment of their health.”
Oxfordshire Rural Community Council has raised concerns with OCCG about the volunteer schemes’ ability to cope, it said.
Those receiving “active care or treatment” for chemotherapy, radiotherapy, renal dialysis, eye surgery, deep vein thrombosis or vascular clinic treatment would be exempt under the plans, to start on October 1.
The OCCG contracts South Central Ambulance Service to provide patient transport through ambulances, volunteer drivers using their own cars, minibuses and specialist vehicles.
Emergency journeys would not be affected.
The changes would see either 27,697 or 31,173 journeys axed out of 110,260 journeys last year, which cost £3.9m.
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