A DISABLED grandad who is an amputee, has a heart condition and carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, was stunned to be told he didn’t qualify for free transport to hospital.
Ken Hodgson couldn’t believe that someone with his range of health problems was expected to make his own way to hospital after a shake up in the transport ambulance service.
The 60-year-old Sunderland man, who relies on his sick wife, Linda, just to leave the house after recently having part of his right leg amputated, a result of a serious injury while working as a miner in Eppleton Colliery 36 years ago.
Although doctors managed to save what was left of the leg, in recent years the pain became so unbearable he had it removed just before Christmas. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which Ken suffers in his wrists, causes pain and numbness in the affected area.
Ken, who grew up in Hetton, but now lives in Southwick, previously had no problems booking ambulances to take him for heart check-ups, and said he couldn’t believe it when he was told he couldn’t have an ambulance to take him for his first physiotherapy appointment at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Since October the region’s clinical commissioning groups announced changes that mean anyone booking an ambulance or ambulance taxi for an appointment at health facilities across the region, now have to go through a new patient transport service question-and-answer session on the telephone.
Ken said: “When I rang up they asked me a range of questions, including was I on dialysis, was I blind or deaf, was I on chemotherapy and even who does my shopping. I said my wife does the shopping, but they still said I didn’t qualify for an ambulance. It just felt so unfair. I’ve worked and paid taxes all my life and it is bad enough coming to terms with the amputation without all this stress.
“I got myself really worked up about it because I know I have loads of hospital appointments coming up.”
Ken, who continued working as a miner for 17 years before the pit closed and then became a registered nurse, said he was eventually given an ambulance after several phone calls from him and Linda, 57, but is worried he will have the same battle on his hands every time he rings for one.
He is also concerned that many other people might be too old, frail or unwell to fight for an ambulance and end up shelling out for taxis.
Breast cancer survivor Linda, who suffers from lymphoedema and osteoarthritis and struggles to push Ken’s wheelchair, said she too is worried for others.
She said: “You could end up with pensioners going without food or turning the heating off to pay for taxis, because they need to get to hospital appointments.”
David Gallagher, chief officer at NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are always grateful to patients for raising any concerns and sharing their experiences, as this can help us to review and improve services where that is needed.
“We are committed to ensuring that anyone with a medical need for transport can get the help they need.
“Patient transport services help patients make about 2,500 journeys every day in the North East, and we follow national guidelines from the Department of Health to decide whether an individual is eligible for support.
“This involves asking a few questions about how you would normally travel for day-to-day activities and whether friends or family normally take you to your appointments.
“If any patient is unhappy with an individual decision, we would encourage them to use the appeals process, which is operated for the whole of the region by North of Tyne Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 032 0202, by text to 01670 511 098 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”