Complicated and painful hospital journeys are adding to the woes of older people and undoubtedly costing the NHS money in missed appointments and relapses.
At Age UK we hear from so many people who are struggling just to get to their hospital appointment, let alone deal with the condition they’re there for in the first place. People like Connie, who at 74 is receiving treatment for breast cancer and endures a weekly nightmare to get to and from the hospital for chemotherapy. She can’t drive because her medication makes her too dizzy, and although she qualifies for patient transport, she sometimes has to wait for up to two hours to be picked up and embark on a long and convoluted journey home following her treatment. She finds it utterly exhausting.
And she is not alone. Connie is just one of thousands upon thousands of older people who regularly suffer painful and difficult journeys to and from hospital appointments, often alone, adding to their misery and causing a huge amount of anxiety.
In a bid to understand the full extent of this problem, we ran some research and discovered that almost a fifth of over-65s – equating to over a million people – who have attended a hospital appointment in the past year reported feeling worse afterwards because of the stress of getting to and from the hospital. For some this was because they had to wait hours for hospital transport, while others had been deemed ineligible for this help and had been forced to use expensive cabs or inadequate public transport.
We all know that our risk of developing multiple health conditions increases with age, which is why so many older people need to make regular or frequent journeys to the hospital. As in Connie’s case, driving to their appointments is simply not an option for many older people. In fact many people that we’ve spoken to are unable to drive due to their condition or medication, don’t have a car, or don’t have friends or family nearby who are able to take them. And even if they can go by car, many struggle to find hospital parking or find that the cost is prohibitive. Alternatives such as patient or public transport are often woefully inadequate or simply not an option.
So it’s no great surprise that so many older people end up missing their hospital appointments which is damaging on a number of levels, not least because it impacts on the treatment they should be receiving. Missed appointments and possible relapses increase the need for emergency NHS treatment and cause a great deal of distress for older people. And if older people are unable to get to the hospital services they need or have to endure long, painful and stressful journeys in order to do so, this inevitably puts more pressure on an already stretched NHS.
Last month we launched a new campaign called Painful Journeys through which we’ve been asking people to contact their local MP and highlight the difficulties that they or a loved one has faced when travelling to hospital appointments. At the time of writing around 3000 people have already demonstrated their support for our campaign by contacting their MP – and 84 MPs have written to the Minister to relay their concerns. A fantastic start to the campaign but we’re hoping that many more will get on board over the next few months.
At Age UK we believe that every hospital journey for an older person should be comfortable, affordable, and get them to their appointment in good time. This would make a huge difference to older patients, their families and the NHS – and that’s why we’re calling on the Government to undertake an urgent review of transport services and put the infrastructure in place to put an end to the painful hospital journeys that so many poorly older people are having to endure every day.
For more information on our Painful Journeys campaign please go to www.ageuk.org.uk/painfuljourneys.