Apology clears air over van cost

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 10:57 20/02/2014

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The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has apologised to a wheelchair-user told by a Nelson Hospital social worker she could get the bus or pay $750 for an ambulance to get home to Blenheim.

Board chief executive Chris Fleming made a personal apology to Linda Barnes yesterday.

For future hospital trips Mrs Barnes, who suffers from spinal disorder Cauda Equina Syndrome, will be eligible for travel assistance.

The 40-year-old had complained to the board about the comments made by the social worker upon being deemed fit for discharge.

She had stayed at the hospital for nine days and underwent two surgeries for a serious sinus problem.

Unable to find transportation home, the social worker suggested she hop on a bus to Blenheim for $45 or pay $750 to get an ambulance.

She turned to a member of Blenheim Baptist Church to transport her specially-adapted disability van to Nelson and transport her home.

Mrs Barnes was not told by the social worker her community services card would assist in the cost of travel from the hospital.

Mr Fleming said the card meant Mrs Barnes was eligible for reimbursement of travel costs from Nelson Hospital following her inter-hospital transfer from Blenheim's Wairau Hospital last Saturday.

"I have personally apologised to Linda and have offered to reimburse the mileage for her van that travelled to and from Nelson to pick her up," he said.

"The national travel and assistance policy shows that people who hold a community services card and are transferred from one hospital to another are eligible for travel assistance on discharge if their travel is further than 80 kilometres."

Mr Fleming said the board was in the process of informing staff of this inter-hospital discharge policy for people with community services cards.

"The criteria includes specialist-to-specialist referral and patients must apply for the assistance before travel is undertaken and expenses are reimbursed for efficient but appropriate transport," he said.

After receiving the apology over the phone, Mrs Barnes said she was happy with the partial resolution. "I am grateful he acknowledged to me it was a mistake by staff and if they had read my file [they would have known] there was no way I could have made a bus trip," she said.

"It should never have got this far. It still doesn't resolve that there is no inter-hospital transportation in place for those that are elderly or who are not able bodied. It hasn't solved the problem, he has put a Band Aid on it."

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The last inter-hospital shuttle service for patients was stopped in March 2012 after six months due to a lack of demand. The board said they were exploring options with St John for inter-hospital transfers for "complex situations" like the one experienced by Mrs Barnes. Patient travel information will be put on the board's website and in newspaper ads. Or Ph 03 520 9999.

- The Marlborough Express

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