Analysis

Free patient transport service eases social isolation for over 75s

An innovative practice project is using a transport service to reduce social isolation for its most vulnerable patients.

An innovative practice project is using a transport service to reduce social isolation for its most vulnerable patients


The Reeth Medical Centre team with some of the patients' who use the bus service

Reeth Medical Centre covers the area of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale in North Yorkshire and has a patient population of 1,600. Around 10% of the practice’s patients are over 75, and there is a higher than national average prevalence of chronic disease.

A practice review of district nursing home visits over a 12-month period found that 86% of calls were generated due to patients not having access to transport to attend the practice for routine checks, tests and vaccinations.

The practice came up with the idea of offering a free patient transport service to enable patients to attend the practice and get out in the community. Working together with South Tees NHS Foundation Trust, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group, and Reeth and District Community Transport (a charitable transport initiative) – the free patient transport service launched in October 2015.

86%

of calls were generated because patients did not have access to transport

(Source: practice review) 

The practice uses an existing wheelchair-friendly community bus. The practice’s only expenditure was the purchase of a wheelchair for the transport bus to use.

Rural location

The district nursing team is based at The Friary Clinic in Richmond and cover nine GP practices. The village of Reeth is situated around 11 miles west from their location.

'We go up to the Yokrshire Dales twice a week as we have a regular caseload of housebound patients and it takes around 20 minutes to get from our base to the practice in Reeth,' says South Tees NHS Foundation Trust district nursing sister, Penny Hutchinson. Many of the practice’s patients live a 30-minute drive from the practice so home visits can be time-consuming for the nurses.


Penny Hutchinson

'Part of the route to Reeth also involves travelling along winding country roads,' says Ms Hutchinson. 'It is not too uncommon for us to be held up by becoming stuck behind a tractor, for example. We have one patient who lives a 40-minute drive from our base and the home visit is a short one, it takes us about ten minutes.

'The patient transport service enables him to attend the practice and that is brilliant for the team, as it is about a 90-minute round trip. One of the main benefits for the team is the close-working relationship we have with the practice. We are able to share and exchange skills as there are aspects of care that the practice nurse does that we do not and vice versa. It is about saying to one another, what skills have you got? Let’s swap.'

42%

reduction in home visits in the first year of introducing the service

Patients using the transport service typically see the practice nurse. They can use the bus to see the GP, attend physiotherapy or podiatry appointments or collect medicines. They may also be seen by the practice’s designated district nurse. This is a unique type of arrangement with the practice due to its remote location. The district nurse holds a two-hour clinic at the practice twice a month. One example of how nurses have shared clinical skills is that the district nurse has learned how to carry out a diabetes check from the practice nurse.

'It is a unique service that works well for everyone'

'We have a special relationship with the practice,' says Penny Hutchinson. 

'If we are struggling to get to one of our housebound patients due to bad weather, for example, we can call the practice to let them know that we are having difficulties reaching a patient. They will then try to help us by seeing if the GP could visit the patient instead.

'We are in regular contact with the practice, particularly myself and the managing partner. If we run into any issues with getting out to see patients, they will let us know if they can carry out the treatment that the patient requires at the practice. They will then arrange for the patient to access the transport service to come into the practice. It is a unique service that works well for everyone.'

 

'We are a small, single-handed GP practice and it keeps the district nurse in touch with practice nursing,' says Reeth Medical Centre’s managing partner Marie Brookes.

'It is also helping to improve her skills base as district nurses may be unfamiliar with some of the long-term conditions. For example, if they are going out to see a diabetic patient, they may not be familiar with doing a foot check or asking some of the extra questions about lifestyle. Both nurses are providing care at that same level now so when the district nurse goes out into the community to do a diabetes check, she has that additional knowledge.'

District nurse clinics have been held in the practice since September 2016

The community bus is used to provide a weekly medicine delivery to seven of the practice’s most vulnerable patients. It is resulting in improved compliance and concordance, says Ms Brookes.

Impact

After the first year of the patient transport service, there was a 42% reduction in home visits. Latest figures from the practice covering the period from September 2016 to end of February 2017 reveal that 43 referrals for the district nursing team have been dealt with by the community transport service. This represents a travel time saving of around 64.5 hours for the team.

It is hoped that there may be interest in offering the community transport service to patients who are registered at other practices in the Reeth Medical Centre area. This would enable the district nursing team to see those patients at the practice and may help to further reduce travel time to and from their Richmond base.

Social link

'The main benefit of this service for our patients is the social aspect,' says Ms Brookes.

'Having a bus that picks you up from your home that can bring a wheelchair to your lounge door makes a big difference. Patients also benefit from that personal touch with the community transport volunteer coming to their home and helping them to get on and off the bus.'

Patients can use the bus to access other areas of support in the community following their trip to the practice. This might include attending luncheon clubs or popping to the post office or local shops. The practice can also make arrangements to coincide clinics and patient appointments with sheltered housing events such as bingo and afternoon tea.

In addition, the practice organises its own social events for patients.

'We offer a winter flu clinic and run a bus service to bring patients to the practice,' says Ms Brookes. The clinic provides around 250 flu vaccinations. Once the clinic is over, patients are treated to hot drinks, cakes, a tombola and a raffle.

'It is a good way for patients to catch up with one another,' she adds.


Julie Penfold is a freelance journalist

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