A HEALTH watchdog has welcomed transport improvements to help people get from Hartlepool to North Tees hospital in Stockton - but says more work needs to be done.
The Healthwatch Hartlepool group voiced major concerns earlier this year after an experiment found one routine round trip using public transport can take up to four hours.
They have raised concerns over timetabling problems, the lack of a direct public bus route to North Tees, problems booking places on some shuttle bus services between the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the Stockton site, access issues for disabled people and the complexity of routes.
Stephen Thomas, of Healthwatch Hartlepool, said: “For a long time, people in Hartlepool have cited examples of problems they’ve experienced in getting to and from North Tees hospital using public transport.
“There should be no barriers whatsoever to people being able to access health and social care services or for people to visit relatives and loved ones receiving care.
“To us at Healthwatch Hartlepool, it’s not a trivial thing or marginal to health and social care, it is absolutely at the centre to accessing services at the right time.”
A variety of volunteers carried out 20 journeys on public transport between Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees to experience the challenges faced by residents.
It followed news of plans to transfer remaining emergency and critical care services from Hartlepool hospital to the North Tees hospital.
They found that journey times ranged between two and four hours for a round trip.
Mr Thomas told Hartlepool Borough Council’s audit and governance committee that improvements had been made since the study was carried out in August. They include extra shuttle buses being laid on to pick up people from outside Hartlepool hospital in Holdforth Road.
And Mr Thomas said Hartlepool Carers has reported good feedback about a new hospital volunteer driver scheme, but said the scheme was not publicised well enough. But he said a direct bus route between the two hospitals would make the biggest difference.
“It would certainly reduce the time and complexity of journeys,” said Mr Thomas.