Helpline for appointments

A groundbreaking new initiative which integrates information on transport availability with the needs of people who have difficulty in getting to and from medical appointments is to be piloted in Grampian.

The move supports the North-east Health and Transport Action Plan (HTAP) drive to help the public – including those in remote areas which are not well served by public transport – to access healthcare facilities.

Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray councils, along with NHS Grampian, the Scottish Ambulance Service and Nestrans, have joined forces to address the transport difficulties faced by patients in keeping medical appointments.

From January 14th, the Transport to Healthcare Information Centre (THInC) will act as a dedicated helpline offering advice on accessing suitable transport for the public to get to and from their appointments where they may have no personal means of transport.

A simple phone call to the information centre will enable staff to advise the caller about transport availability and how best to access it. It will include details of suitable bus or train times as well as contact telephone numbers and other information for services such as local dial-a-bus or care-share groups.

Eventually it is hoped that a system can be developed so that patients are given appointments which fit in with the transport available to them.

During the period of the trial, THInC will only be available to patients attending the Outpatient Eye Clinic and the Dental School, both at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. It will also be open to all residents living within the Moray area attending appointments at any clinic run by NHS Grampian.

Gerry Donald, chair of HTAP, said: “There is generally a good level of access to healthcare in the region however research has shown that one of the major difficulties experienced by some people, particularly the elderly, the vulnerable and those in rural areas, is they did not always know what public transport is available and which is best suited to their needs.

“THInC will provide the focal point for people to find out quickly and easily about the existing services which are available to help them meet their appointments. The hope is that it will not only improve patients experiences, it will also provide vital information on how people travel to their appointments, how many appointments may be missed due to transport issues and how transport availability can be improved.

“We are the first region to undertake a pilot like this and while it is an ambitious project, all the partners recognise that access to healthcare could be improved considerably if a fully integrated transport and appointment booking system could eventually be set up for Grampian.”

Patients who are eligible to use THInC during the pilot will be sent the telephone number with their appointment letter.

The centre will record all requests for transport, including those which cannot be met in order to gauge the level of unmet need. The data will be used to inform future decision making on requirements for new transport services and to co-ordinate appointments with the availability of existing public transport.