Suffolk Community Transport chief says ‘We are at breaking point: Patients are missing their appointments’.

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Suffolk Community Transport are calling for a crunch meeting with NHS chiefs over concerns that cuts to free patient transport mean some patients in Stowmarket, Thetford and other areas, are missing appointments.

One community transport scheme in Suffolk even reported that it had a woman in Canada calling desperate to find transport for her elderly father who has heart condition, so he could make an appointment.

NHS Suffolk and NHS Norfolk made changes in 2011 that meant patients had to be assessed to see if they are entitled to free home to hospital transport.

It is claimed the move has saved the NHS £300,000.

That pushed demand onto community transport schemes.

Figures show the demand for patient transport for non emergencies increased by almost a third between September 2011 and March 2012 with Thetford and Stowmarket two of the worst hit areas.

John Philips, director of Suffolk Community Transport, the umbrella organisation for 19 community transport schemes in the county, said: “We have tried on numerous occasions to get the NHS around the table to discuss this issue and we have largely been ignored.

“The problem is now spiralling out of control and urgent action is required.

“The community transport operators are now at breaking point and are no longer able to meet the rising demands for hospital transport under the current arrangements.

“The situation can only end one way and that is leaving many vulnerable people unable to find a way of getting to their hospital appointment, which could seriously jeopardise their longer term health and cause much stress to their loved ones.”