Every year NHS hospitals manage over 92 million outpatient appointments and 21 million visits to A&E. Although people value NHS staff and recognise the pressure they are under, they also tell us their experiences – from getting to appointments to leaving hospital - can vary greatly.
1. Getting to hospital can be difficult
Getting to hospital on time can be a stressful experience. We heard from people who were let down by transport and missed their appointment as a result.
Parking can be a major issue, with some people arriving up to three hours in advance to find a space and then having to pay expensive charges. Non-emergency patient transport can also be unreliable. People tell us that they cannot always depend on these services to pick them up or drop them home. There is confusion over who is eligible to use the transport and how to complain about poor service.
"Father had a below-the-knee amputation this year on one leg and a foot amputation on the other... He also has early onset dementia. He lives in a residential care home and has been having two to three hospital trips per month. He has been denied patient transport services as he needs no medical intervention on the journey.
"I’ve spoken to social services and they said it’s nothing to do with them. He has been told he needs to use a private disabled access taxi service. He only has £25 per week to live on, so this would cost too much. He has paid for a taxi for one hospital visit and it cost £120 pounds. He won’t be able to do this again and will now be denied medical intervention because he can’t afford to get to hospital."
Patient story shared with Healthwatch Cornwall
2. Long waits in A&E
People feel they’re waiting too long when they visit A&E for immediate care. This could be because of a lack of clarity about waiting times. However, in some cases we know people are waiting in excess of the NHS four-hour waiting target. For example, Healthwatch Worcestershire heard that a patient had to wait 18 hours on a trolley in the A&E Department.
We also heard that some out-of-hours services and NHS 111 are incorrectly directing people to A&E. Healthwatch Reading found that more than 80% of people they spoke to had been sent to A&E by another service. Their findings challenge the assumption that people are using A&E as a first port of call.
3. Lack of support when leaving hospital
When hospitals discharge people, they don’t always take the time to make sure they have the right support in place. Without a care plan or guidance about what to do next, it can be a struggle to cope at home and lead to readmission.
Families tell us the process of leaving hospital can be confusing because of a lack of communication between services, and this means loved ones aren’t always informed or given the right information when their relatives are discharged.
“Mum was given the Friday as a discharge date. I arranged with the hospital that she would be brought home in the hospital transport ambulance at 4pm as I had arranged for two carers to receive her at her house. This was necessary as Mum cannot walk, is very deaf, diabetic and needs support.
“For some reason the hospital transport ignored this instruction and took her home at 2pm. They took the key out of her key safe and let themselves in, dumping my mum on the bed. They left her alone without a drink or any support. She was left disorientated and alone for two hours.”
Patient story shared with Healthwatch Hillingdon