Stranded patient gets apology

Last updated 13:00 20/02/2014

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The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has apologised to a wheelchair user who was told by a Nelson Hospital social worker that she could catch a 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 the spinal disorder Cauda Equina Syndrome, will be eligible for travel assistance.

The 40-year-old had complained to the DHB about the comments made by the social worker after she was deemed fit for discharge.

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

After she was unable to find transport home, the social worker suggested that she hop on a bus to Blenheim for $45 or pay $750 to get an ambulance.

Mrs Barnes turned to a member of the Blenheim Baptist Church to drive her specially adapted van to Nelson and transport her home.

The social worker did not tell her that her community services card would assist with her travel costs.

Mr Fleming said the card meant Mrs Barnes was eligible for reimbursement of travel costs from Nelson Hospital following her 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 DHB was informing staff about the inter-hospital discharge policy for people who had 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 DHB said it was exploring options with St John for inter-hospital transfers for "complex situations" like the one experienced by Mrs Barnes.

- The Nelson Mail

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