Patient transport service in firing line on Skye

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

A woman from Portree on Skye whose transport to hospital in Fort  William was cancelled the day before her appointment was told “just don’t turn up” when she asked how she was expected to travel.

Mrs Morag Smart, who has multiple sclerosis, was scheduled for a CT scan at the Belford Hospital on Tuesday 4th March because of severe abdominal pain. Her husband, Iain, had booked the patient transport vehicle with the control room in Inverness on Thursday 27th February.

In a letter to Milne Weir, head of service for the Scottish Ambulance Service, Mr Smart wrote: “I informed them that she had to be conveyed on a stretcher, on the instructions of the GP. This request was approved, but they could not give me a time for uplift. The GP requested that I should travel with her.

“At approximately 3pm on Monday 3rd March Morag received a telephone call from the Patient Transport Service informing her that the booking had to be cancelled because the vehicle was double-booked. Morag asked how she was going to travel to Fort William, and the person told her ‘just don’t turn up’. It transpired that the transport was booked to go to Raigmore Hospital with five patients (one of which was a stretcher case) two days before I made my booking request. Morag was informed that they only had one vehicle and one crew available.”

Despite speaking to a service supervisor about the double booking, Mr Smart had to take his wife to Fort William in their own vehicle while she was sitting in a wheel­chair. Such was her dis­comfort that he had to administer pain relief during the journey.

After the couple returned to Portree, the care at home service discovered that Mrs Smart had two pressure sores which were not there prior to the journey.

Mr Smart added: “On Thursday 6th March the community nurse attended to the pressure sores and
put fresh dressings on them. The nurse was horrified at the state of the sores and instructed that Morag remain in bed, which has an alternating pressure mattress. The pressure sores were caused by sitting whilst in the wheelchair for a long period of time in the vehicle, which was very bumpy.”

Following the incident, Mrs Smart said there were numerous examples of missed or double-booked appoint­ments experienced by other patients.

“This has been happening over and over again,” she said. “I know of one woman who was phoned 10 minutes before she was due to be picked up and told that the vehicle had been cancelled. Something ought to be done about this but people are frightened to speak out.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service acknowledged that the Smarts had submitted a complaint and that arrangements were being made to apologise in person.

The spokesman added: “Short-term sickness absence and vacancies in the scheduled care service has caused some recent difficulties in managing a small number of patient journeys. This situation is improving. We are currently reviewing the alignment of resources with the varying appointments times in order to improve the service to patients.”