PATIENTS and visitors to two hospitals are being reminded to take advantage of a free shuttle bus between the sites.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust runs the bus between the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, seven days a week between 6am-10pm.
It was first introduced a year ago to coincide with the closure of the A&E unit at the Holdforth Road hospital, in Hartlepool.
But hospital campaigners from the Save Our Hospital group claim some people are still not aware it exists.
Hospital chiefs say patients and visitors will never be left “stranded” and if they need transport when the bus isn’t running they will provide other transport, including taxis.
They encourage people to organise their own transport, but if that is not possible then the shuttle service is available.
It caters for visitors, patients attending appointments, patients travelling for urgent care, patients who are discharged from North Tees A&E after treatment and people who need to get back to Hartlepool after they have gone in an ambulance with a relative who has been admitted.
Kevin Oxley, commercial director at the trust, said: “We’ve been running a shuttle bus service for patients and visitors to travel between the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees for just over a year now.
“We want to help patients, their relatives and visitors and that’s why we extended this shuttle bus service to seven days a week, running from 6am-10pm between the two hospital sites.
“People who receive benefits can claim transport costs, and staff will help them to do this.
“We would encourage patients and visitors where possible to ask someone to collect them from hospital because money which we spend on patient transport could be spent on direct patient care.
“However, we would never leave our patients stranded if they have no other means of getting home and we do understand it is difficult for some people.
“In those cases, often late at night, when other transport is limited, we will arrange transport.
“We are continually looking at ways of improving access to our hospitals and we’re currently looking at introducing a volunteer driver service, which we hope will be operational in the new year.”
Keith Fisher, chair of the Save Our Hospital group, said: “I accept and applaud that the trust is running the shuttle bus.
“They have been as good as their word in doing so, but I am concerned that not everybody is aware of it.
“A lot of people have paid a lot of money getting to and from the hospital when they could have taken advantage of this service.
“People need to know.”
The A&E department at the Hartlepool site was declared unfit for purpose by an independent review and closed last August.
Patients in need of emergency attention are now dealt with at the urgent care centre at the £20m One Life Hartlepool, in Park Road or the A&E department at the University Hospital of North Tees.