How easy is it to travel to medical appointments?

In our latest review of people’s experiences of NHS and social care services, we look in detail at the issue of patient transport.
Man in wheelchair being helped into a minibus

Each year, over 93 million trips are made to hospital appointments by patients in England.[1] Although people often have positive things to say about the care they receive, many find getting to hospital difficult in the first place, with journeys much harder than they should be.

What have people been telling us?

Find out the full picture in our quarterly review, which looks at the experiences people shared with Healthwatch between January and March 2019. In this issue, as well as patient transport, we also look at people’s experiences of seeing their GP, visiting hospital and accessing mental health support.

Find out more

The challenges people can face

One of the big challenges for people is covering the costs of getting to appointments, finding parking spaces at hospitals, accessing public transport, and physically getting to services without help.

Although there are services available to help people get to appointments and pay for transport – such as Patient Transport Services and the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme – we’ve heard that there is not enough clear information shared with people about their options, and that they don’t always meet people’s needs.

Many have to go to enormous efforts to visit various healthcare settings, often on a regular basis. It’s not just that this is inconvenient for patients, but those with a disability, medical condition or frailty, simply cannot get to appointments without help. For people in rural areas, travel is made particularly difficult by the limited frequency and range of transport available.

“I have no immediate family close by which makes life very difficult at times, and accessing hospitals is very hard as I live in a rural community.”
— Personal story, Healthwatch Suffolk

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We’ve also heard from people who’ve felt vulnerable and confused after leaving hospital without any help to get home. This is worse for those who can’t afford a private taxi but are discharged late at night or early in the morning when public transport services aren’t operating or are running less frequently.

We’ve raised this issue for the past few years in our work on hospital discharge processes and how a poorly handled discharge can lead to people having to return to hospital for further care which could have been avoided.

How can health and care professionals help?

People want clearer information from the start about the help they can get, and what it will look like. When they aren’t aware of the support they’re entitled to, they may end up missing appointments because they can’t afford to get there.

Health and social care professionals can help by:

  • Supporting people to find out if they are eligible for non-emergency transport services
  • Promoting how patients may be able to get a refund on their transport costs

The NHS and social care sector is going through a major period of change, with a clear aim to provide more services where people are – such as in their homes or in the community - rather than making people travel to access care. However, it’s still vital that these issues with patient transport are addressed to ensure everybody can get to the support they need, when they need it.


[1] In 2017-18, there were 119.4 million outpatient appointments, of which 93.5 million were attended by patients. NHS Digital, Hospital Outpatient Activity, 2017-18.

Download the report

Find out more about what people told us between January - March 2019 in our quarterly report.

Read the report

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