Wheelchair-bound patient told to take bus home

UNHELPFUL: Blenheim wheelchair user Linda Barnes was told by a social worker to find her own transport home from Nelson Hospital.
UNHELPFUL: Blenheim wheelchair user Linda Barnes was told by a social worker to find her own transport home from Nelson Hospital.

A wheelchair user from Blenheim has described being told by a social worker to get the bus home or pay $750 for an ambulance after being discharged from Nelson Hospital.

Linda Barnes revealed how she was caught in limbo at the hospital unable to find wheelchair-friendly transport to Blenheim.

The 40-year-old, who suffers from spinal disorder Caudia Equina Syndrome and has no feeling below the waist, relies on her specially adapted disability van to drive to hospital appointments.

Barnes said she was "shocked" when told she would have to make her own transport arrangements to get home.

The mother-of-one survives on a $280 invalid's and disability allowance a week. A social worker told her the options for travel ranged from a $45 bus journey to Blenheim or paying $750 dollars for an ambulance.

Barnes was airlifted to Nelson last Saturday from Blenheim's Wairau Hospital in excruciating pain and underwent two surgeries for a serious sinus problems.

"I was in a lot of pain, I felt my brain was going to explode behind my right eye," she said.

After undergoing two surgeries medical staff deemed she was fit enough to be discharged on Friday morning. However, her disability van sat 118 kilometres away in her driveway in Blenheim.

"I told the social worker my husband had vision problems and he did not have a driver's licence," she said. "I don't have any family in Blenheim, my only family is my church family and I didn't know who to contact to ask for help."

The response from the social worker to her dilemma lacked empathy, Barnes said.

"He said he had an elderly patient who had knee surgery and got on a bus [home]. He didn't explore how I would get to the bus station. I am dead from the waist down, how could I get up the steps into a bus? I require a hoist to get out of my wheelchair.

"He said I could pay $750 to get an ambulance or they would try and get someone from Wairau Hospital to drive my van to Nelson. I just looked at him. It was obvious he hadn't dealt with someone in a wheelchair. I felt like saying ‘tape your legs together and try getting on a bus'. It is like they have no empathy, it is all about the dollar."

Barnes turned to a pensioner in the Blenheim Baptist Church to drive her van to Nelson and transport her home.

Last March, the Blenheim-to-Nelson health shuttle was cancelled after six months due to disappointing demand.

Only 217 people used the five-day-a-week shuttle, giving it an average occupancy of 15 per cent, fewer than two seats per trip.

The shuttle, run by St John, was put in place for people with medical appointments at Nelson Hospital or for transport before and after hospital admissions.

Plans by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board to transfer more surgeries to Nelson Hospital compounded the need for the shuttle service to be re-established, Barnes said.

"There has to be something better in place for the elderly and people that are less able-bodied. If they [the board] are transferring services they have to think of the bigger picture, not just the dollars."

The board's Allied Health director Hilary Exton said the board was in negotiations with St John to develop a "dedicated hospital-to-hospital transfer service".

"Generally people from Blenheim who are discharged from Nelson Hospital are transported by friends or relatives or travel by bus," Exton said. "There is work being done between the hospitals and St John to introduce a contract where patients are transported between the sites and this [Barnes] inquiry reinforces how necessary this is."

The Marlborough Express