VOLUNTEERS will play a major part in transporting patients between hospitals if plans to move hospital services go ahead.

The plans, and the hospital merger, are currently on hold but a patient transfer system is being worked on behind the scenes which will involve patients being transported between hospitals.

Southend Standard:

Relatives and carers of patients and those deemed fit to attend appointments under their own steam will have to find their own transport.

The partnership is working on plans to make those journeys easier, including expanding the “Carecar” volunteer driver service and liaising with bus companies on optimising services.

Those in charge of the changes – known as the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership – want to have things in place should the health secretary give the go ahead for services to be shared between Southend, Basildon and Broomfield Hospitals.

It would see hospitals change from a one-stop shops to specialist centres where patients go to whichever hospital deals with that type of ailment, rather than the nearest hospital.

Southend Hospital’s Carecar scheme currently has 38 drivers undertaking 3,000 trips a year between Southend and the other two hospitals between 9am and 4pm.

Similar schemes are now being launched at Basildon and Broomfield Hospitals and a recruitment drive is being carried in preparation for the partnership plans.

The “cost neutral” service for the NHS costs patients 50p a mile and those on benefits are likely to get refunds, with the partnership providing extra funding.

Freddie Dawkins is on the Mid and South East Essex Transport Working Group comprising of patients and members of the public.

Mr Dawkins, 68, from Thorpe Bay, who is standing as an Independent candidate for Shoebury West ward in the May local elections, said: “ The management team need to have been nailing down these important plans months ago.

“To expect a voluntary organisation such as Carecar to take up a lot of the slack is pie in the sky - even given they have been promised some extra funding.”

Mr Dawkins added: “A lot of families on low incomes will not be able to get back and forth from more remote departments, once the closures and transfers take effect. Even if the Government stops the plan, certain services and departments have already been run down and or moved.

“Orsett Hospital being a case in point. A lot of their patients now have to go instead to Southend or Broomfield.

“People with early or late outpatient appointments are already being hit - having to take expensive taxis or undergo long public transport journeys. It is not good for pensioners.”

Tom Abell, deputy chief executive at Southend Hospital, said: “We know that providing specialist services leads to better outcomes for patients, which is why a small number of people – around 15-a-day – are already travelling between our hospitals to access expert treatment and want to build on this further through the service change plans we consulted on last year.

“We are always working to provide a better experience, which is why we are taking steps to improve transport for these patients, their families and friends.”

The partnership said it is not looking at outside organisations to run the service.

Mr Abell said: “We are looking to improve the existing arrangements by working with the community and voluntary sector across south and mid Essex. Community Transport already provides a valuable and successful service.”