Concerns have been raised about the impact changes to a free hospital bus service could have on staff and patients.
The Mail reported yesterday that the Shuttle Bus provided by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is to start from 8.30am in Hartlepool from December 1 instead of 6.15am currently.
The bus makes a number of round trip journeys between the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton.
Its last pick-up in town will be at 8.30pm compared to 9pm on a weekday and 9.30pm on weekends.
But a hospital worker and also the North East Empowerment and Diversity (NEED) say it will impact on staff and patients’ ability to get to work and early morning appointments.
The worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Staff have been told they have to find other ways of getting into work.
“A lot of people don’t have cars. They can’t car share because one might be on one shift and another on another shift.
“People know they are not going to be able to get there. The unions have put grievances in.”
The hospital trust told the Mail that staff will still be able to use the shuttle buses.
The NEED group says patients should not be given appointments before 9am if they are unable to get there due to the timetable changes.
A spokesman said: “We feel the shuttle service is absolutely necessary for those who can’t afford to pay taxi fares.
“From December 1, people are not going to be able to get to North Tees for scans and appointments before 9am on the shuttle bus.”
The spokesman added NEED will look to work with partner agencies as part of a campaign to encourage people continue to use the bus.
“We want to work with the council, Health and Wellbeing Board and Healthwatch to try to get numbers up. It is either use it or lose it.”
The group also fears the timetable changes could lead to increased appointment cancellations.
The trust says the changes are based on the need to make savings.
Director of estates, Peter Mitchell said: “In this current financial climate, it is essential to our organisation that we maximise savings in areas with negligible or no impact on services that directly affect patient care.
“For the past four years, this service has been funded wholly by the trust; it is not commissioned, nor has it received any commissioner or local council funding.”
The trust said the service remains free but needs to be pre-booked on (01429) 522550. Patients can ask to use its free door-to-door volunteer driver service.