1. Transport
November 30, 2017

The NHS patient transport system isn’t working. So what can we do about it?

By James Coe

The hallmark of an effective transport service is one which gets people to where they need to be at the time they expect. The more timely the service, the more people like it.

To make this possible transport operators need accurate information. They need to know how many people they will transport and when. In this ideal ecosystem, this would mean that transport can be matched to need, and passengers would have a reliable service.

In hospital transport, where people are often being taken to appointments, timeliness is particularly important. Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) commission non-emergency patient transport for patients who have a medical need for transport between NHS healthcare providers. This is provided by a mix of in house services, private providers, and community transport operators.

You might only be familiar with patient transport from the news stories which focus on where it doesn’t work, where patients are waiting for transport, or they have to use transport which is unsuitable for their needs. Across the country, patients who rely on these services are greeted with changing eligibility criteria, variable services, and long waiting times. If they can’t use this transport at all getting to hospital can be expensive, stressful, and inconvenient.

Everyone should be able to get in and out of medical appointments in a way which supports good health. But at the moment, this experience is by no means universal.

Planning effective patient transport within the NHS is incredibly difficult. There is poor data collection and use of travel data, commissioning does not support continuous improvement, and demand is often unpredictable. It’s impossible to improve services where operators do not know what they are tendering for, where the commissioning body does not enable improvements, and where patients have no effective mechanisms to hold anyone to account.

For patients who need recurrent treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy, transport is a significant part of their lives. Staff across the NHS work every day to ensure these patients receive the greatest level of care, but the patient transport environment does not currently reflect their commitment.

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In community transport we hear about this a lot. Our members provide hospital transport, often without pay, to ensure people in their communities can get to where they need to be. There are lessons we can learn from their approach to personalisation and accessibility that can transform health transport.

We need to create a culture of innovation which encompasses innovative commissioning practices. It’s necessary to look at how community transport, and communities more widely, can play a greater role in the commissioning, provision, and evaluation, of hospital transport. CCGs also need to share and collect more meaningful data.

These aren’t abstract travel problems which are impossible to resolve. It’s time to learn the lessons from our local communities on how we can make our hospital transport better.

You Can Read CTA’s New Report: Innovations in Health Transport here.

The CTA is the national body for the providers of community transport. You can follow its work at @CTAUK1 and on its blog.

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