Hospital Trust Criticised Over Lack Of Communication

The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust’s commitment to Islanders is being questioned following a passionate council debate over mainland hospital travel warrants.

Health Overview Committee Chairman, Dudley Mumford, warned that the Trust’s communications have been “dire” and if Associate Director of RCHT Strategy, John Curnow had not attended the meeting, the matter would have been taken to a “higher authority.”

Councillors criticised Curnow for repeatedly ignoring questions from the Council and the IoS LINK organisation over changes to policy and procedure and they demanded that he should prove or retract his Trust’s allegation that islanders were abusing the medical travel ticket scheme.

This comes at a time when the Trust requires Scilly’s support to apply for Foundation Trust status or risk being taken over.

The subsidised hospital travel issue flared up in October when RHCT announced they would force patients to pay the full mainland travel fare up front and then claim it back. The Trust said the changes were to improve and maintain the service in a streamlined way that met their auditing requirements, but the Council vowed to fight the proposal.

There were concerns that islanders needing regular treatment, such as cancer patients, could be hundreds of pounds out-of-pocket while awaiting reimbursement.

The fierce opposition appears to have worked since Mr Curnow agreed in the meeting that the Trust would scrap the planned changes, instead retaining the current system where patients pay £5 and are issued a travel warrant.

A dedicated warrant phone line would be used to assist off-islanders and local GPs would administer who would travel as an escort, Curnow said.

He also suggested a leaflet drop to inform islanders but Sue Williams of health watchdog, LINK, insisted that the Royal Mail delivered the information to every home as she felt it was an important message to communicate.


Trust ‘Should Retract Allegations’ About Islanders


The meeting has exposed deep-seated issues with the treatment of the Islands by the RCHT.

The Trust’s general communication with the bodies it is supposed to consult with was heavily criticised.

But Councillors pointed out that, while the Trust wasn’t prepared to answer Council  and Link watchdog questions, it appeared keen to share its own view of Scillonians.

Dudley explained that an RHCT official openly talked about islanders abusing medical tickets during a meeting at the Health Centre.

That prompted Amanda Martin to demand John Curnow retract or substantiate the claims.

She told him there was “no room for wiggling” and the reputation of the whole community was at stake.

Mr Curnow said he wasn’t present at that meeting.

Aisling Hick was concerned that although no evidence had been presented to show that residents were playing the system, the allegation was viewed as fact by the helicopter operator.

British International Helicopters is now rigidly enforcing a £25 fee for changing a medical ticket.

Dudley Mumford presented correspondence from BIH boss, Tony Jones, claiming his company had become a “victim of our good nature by NHS passengers abusing the system.”

He said last minute changes to NHS bookings left unsold seats on full flights.

BIH say they offer the NHS a discount and “in these difficult economic times this beneficent behaviour is not justified”’.

Tony’s letter adds BIH may bring in discounted, non-refundable tickets in the future and if the NHS wants those they will waive a change fee.

Dudley said a new sign at St Mary’s Hospital shows that RCHT bosses were “party” to the change of helicopter policy, claiming the charge was imposed without any consultation and just the “stroke of a pen.”

There was no mechanism for appealing the change fee, which Dudley felt was wrong, as there could be a valid reason.


Cost Saving ‘Could Backfire’


The NHS was warned that the recent cost-saving exercise could backfire.

Sue Wiliams said nationally available NHS leaflet HC12 states that islanders should pay no more than £5 to reach mainland appointments.

Most residents don’t claim for the additional costs of onward travel or accommodation after arrival in Cornwall.

She warned that, if the NHS was getting picky about funding the warrant scheme, islanders could justifiably bill the RCHT for all their travel costs, which could exceed £150.

Councillors also expressed frustration that RCHT still hasn’t sorted out an acceptable appointment booking procedure.

At a consultation session in the Autumn, Trust Chairman Martin Watts admitted the system was “broke” by scheduling times that didn’t work with travel timetables and required an overnight stay .

Amanda Martin told John Curnow the issue had “been round the block” for years and “it would be nice if we felt we were listened to seriously.”

She added that the Trust shouldn’t “cherry pick” the issues it wanted to listen to islanders on.

Members told the RCHT management to come back with detailed plans for the travel system and suggested that there should be a one-year trial of any new procedures to assess whether it works.

The meeting showed an apparent lack of understanding for islanders needs and it was clear the NHS had not taken on the opinions of residents, which they sought in several rounds of consultation.

There are questions over whether the RCHT is best-placed to serve Scilly and some observers may question whether their bosses’ feared takeover by an upcountry Trust’s management may provide a better solution for the patients here.


2 Responses to Hospital Trust Criticised Over Lack Of Communication

  1. Fiona Robson February 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Between September and December 2011, I had to accompany my husband to Trelliske on a number of occasions. On one occasion he was discharged from hospital on a Sunday and we had to find accommodation for two nights as he was due back for tests 2 days later. On another occasion we had to phone the heliport to let them know we would be late, we made it with 5 minutes to spare before take off. On the last occasion we stayed overnight for an 8.30am appointment. We arrived at 8.00 to be told that we probably would not be able to go home that day as they were running over from the day before. As it was their fault I was handed an out of date brochure by the PALS office and told I could have 20.00 towards my nights stay.I then had to find somewhere, which as anyone knows is almost impossible at such short notice. My husband had to stay in hospital. On this occasion we had to pay for 2 cars. In total we have spent 500.00. As far as shopping is concerned we have not had time or indeed the money to go and ‘enjoy’ourselves whilst on the mainland! As for charging 25.00 to change your ticket, this is disgraceful. It is bad enough having to go to the mainland when you are ill, but to be charged extra to change your ticket when you have to stay in hospital, through no fault of your own is terrible.

  2. Gordon Bilsborough February 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Having watched the Council webcast, I would like to congratulate Dudley Mumford, Amanda Martin, Sue Williams and Aisling Hick on their outspoken contributions at the recent Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust must issue a public apology to the people of the Isles of Scilly for one of its Transport Office staff accusing IOS patients of widespread abuse of the medical travel warrants system. My wife, Jane Hurd was present at the meeting last August when that accusation was made.
    Patients have been accused of “working the system” by combining shopping trips with medical appointments. Quite frankly, there is no reason whatsoever why anyone should not do this because it does not involve the RCHT in any additional expense.
    Would it satisfy the RCHT if every IOS patient swore a solemn oath that they would not call in any shop or enjoy themselves in any manner whatsoever when visiting the mainland for a medical appointment?