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Healthwatch Islington helps people claim back healthcare travel costs

21/01/16

The Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme exists to help people on lower incomes recover the cost of travelling to and from NHS treatment, but how easy is it to use? Healthwatch Islington conducted a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise to find out.

We spoke to Healthwatch Islington to find out more.

How did this issue come about?

People using the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme, told us that the process for making a claim for travel costs was complicated and inaccessible and managed inconsistently across the borough.

The scheme allows eligible patients to claim back their travel expenses to appointments made to receive secondary care services, where they have been referred directly for that service by a doctor, dentist or medical consultant.

They can also claim travel costs for their children, when their children have been referred to these services.

People told us that some providers insisted on same day claims, which wasn’t always possible.

‘My son, who is eligible to claim fares, was told [that] he could only claim on the day of his appointment. This was difficult given that he was allocated the last appointment of the day and the finance office closed at 4.30pm which was before his appointment time.’

What did you find?

Volunteers from Healthwatch Islington carried out ‘mystery shopping’ at 9 local hospitals and 16 GP practices to find out how easy it is for people on low incomes to claim back their travel costs.

On the positive side, we found that most hospital staff knew about the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme or were able to signpost to the right person to talk to. 

To claim, the patient would have to visit the cashier’s office within three months of their appointment with proof of appointment, entitlement certificate and travel receipts.

However, only three hospitals offered the option to make a claim by post, and only one offered a prepaid envelope making the scheme harder for people to access.

In comparison, none of the GP reception staff that our volunteers spoke to were aware of the scheme. When asked, two practices said that reimbursement of travel expenses was only applicable for travel to hospital appointments.

This combined with a lack of promotion of the scheme means that vulnerable patients on low incomes are not benefitting from a scheme that was set up to help them.

What happened as a result?

We made a series of recommendations and shared these with the GP practices and hospitals that we spoke to. Such as:

  • All hospitals should offer patients the option to claim travel costs by post
  • GP reception staff in particular, needs to be informed about the scheme and when it might apply to patients using their services
  • Islington Clinical Commissioning Group should provide a briefing for all GP practices about the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme

We have shared the existing best practice we had found with the other hospitals. We have not heard back from all of them yet, but one has already acted on our recommendations and is now offering the option of claiming by post and will also introduce prepaid envelopes.

We are also working with Islington Clinical Commissioning Group to raise awareness with GP practices about the scheme and when patients visiting their practices should be able to make a claim.

Read more in Healthwatch Islington's report

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