HEALTH bosses have shelled out more than £9,000 in just two months to ferry staff and patients to Stockton following the transfer of emergency critical care services from Hartlepool’s hospital.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust was paying around £1,500 a month in taxi fares, but that figure has tripled since October following the closure of all remaining critical care facilities at the Holdforth Road-based hospital.
Taxis are used to get Hartlepool-based nursing and clerical staff to and from the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, in a 30-mile round trip on a daily basis while some patients who are unable to access cars can also be entitled to a cab ride to get to appointments.
Hospital campaigner Keith Fisher believes the figures are just “a fraction” of the true cost as the numbers do not include taxi fares of patients who are not reimbursed by the trust.
And he is concerned that the figures have rocketed despite a travel plan put in place by the trust to help reduce the impact of the controversial move.
Unless there is a dramatic reduction in the taxi fares, then the trust could be facing annual bills in excess of £50,000.
Peter Mitchell, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust associate director of estates and facilities, said: “Due to the recent transformation of emergency and critical care services from the University Hospital of Hartlepool to the University Hospital of North Tees the number of taxi journeys staff and patients are making across sites has risen.”
In August and September, the trust was spending £1,516 and £1,604 on taxi costs to take patients and staff between Hartlepool and North Tees, and vice versa.
The transfer of critical and emergency medical care from Hartlepool hospital in Holdforth Road to North Tees in Stockton began in early October and took around a month.
It followed an independent review of services after concerns from staff at Hartlepool about the sustainability of the services.
The taxi costs have rocketed since, rising to £4,221 for October and then £4,564 in November.
Councillor Keith Fisher said: “Of course, the costs will be directly proportional to the amount of services the trust move out of town.
“Healthwatch Hartlepool recently did a number of journeys and found that at certain times of day they had no option but to use taxis.
“Whatever the figure from the trust is, it will be a fraction of what people are actually paying as many don’t know how to claim.
“It is money that could be spent on more important things but it wouldn’t have occurred if they hadn’t moved the services.”
Patients on certain welfare benefits are eligible for help with travel costs under a national Hospital Transport Costs scheme.
Staff can also claim in unavoidable situations.
Mr Mitchell, from the trust, said they have brought in a number of transport improvements for staff including a car sharing scheme and extra car parking spaces at North Tees.
He added: “We also have a team of volunteer drivers to transport patients to and from appointments.
“We also have a shuttle bus service that travels regularly between the two hospital sites.
“We have been receiving feedback from users about the service and have already recently made adjustments to running times and frequency to make it more convenient for people.
“Since the start of December the trust has been providing 24 return shuttle journeys a day on weekdays from the first thing in the morning until late in the evening and we expect to see a reduction in the number of people using taxis as they become familiar with these new travel arrangements.”