OLDER people in Fermanagh are missing vital health appointments as they don’t have proper transport to take them there, it has been revealed.
The Pensioners Parliament recently raised the issue of hospital transport, publishing a report that showed one-in-seven older people were missing medical appointments, and almost half of those surveyed had had difficulties travelling to appointments in the past two years.
The report also highlighted that nine-out-of-ten older people did not receive any information on transport options with their appointment letter.
Anita Flanagan, manager of Fermanagh Community Transport (FCT), who help ensure many older people living in rural areas make their doctor and hospital appointments locally, said they had noticed the problem was widespread across the county.
“People are getting appointments for Altnagelvin and Belfast, and they’re having to ask family and friends to take time off work to take them to these appointments,” she said.
“If they can’t take the time off work and you have to change it, you’re put back to the bottom of the waiting list.”
Stating the administration around hospital appointments was “shocking”, Ms Flanagan said hospitals should give consideration to these patients, and rearrange their appointments rather than putting them back on the list. She added some consultants already do this for their patients.”
There is not direct bus service from Fermanagh to Derry, where many locals are being given appointments, and while a hospital bus service had previously been trialled locally on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the service was discontinued due to a lack of use. However, as Ms Flanagan pointed out, this was because the days it ran did not correlate with the days of patients’ appointments.
Ms Flanagan also explained the stresses older people face when using public transport to hospitals in Belfast face, such as the fear of missing their bus home.
“You can’t put a 90-year-old on a bus to hospital in Belfast,” she said. “That’s why the older people like using our service. They know we won’t go without them.”
Unfortunately, due to severe funding constraints, FCT, who have been pouring a lot of their own money into the service due to recent cuts to their funding budget, are only able to transport patients within Fermanagh, such as to their GPs or to the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).
“Due to the lack of money, we can’t take Fermanagh people to hospital appointments in Omagh, and similarly, for those living just outside Fermanagh in places like Trillick, we can’t take them to appointments at SWAH,” said Ms Flanagan.
FCT recently held a productive meeting with the Stormont committee for infrastructure at Waterways Ireland’s HQ in Enniskillen, and Ms Flanagan said they had received “great support”.
She has now called on the Department of Health to also support FCT, as the services helps transport patients to appointments locally. She explained that by helping make sure their users got to the shops, appointments, and were socially active, thus helping their physical and mental well-being, they were helping prevent a drain on the health service.
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