This week NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group have announced fairly significant changes to the way in which they support transport for patients to and from medical appointments. In essence the changes are to ensure that there is consistency in the support which people receive which is, of course, an improvement. However, in practice it seems that the changes will mean that some people who have been used to receiving significant support for their transport costs in getting to hospital are, with very little notice, going to receive markedly less support. When I say ‘very little notice’ I mean it too, the changes come into effect today.

The biggest change is that people being treated by NHS Kernow will no longer receive any discretionary transport (or accommodation) funding, only people who qualify under the nationally set medical or financial eligibility criteria will receive assistance. This extends to people who received discretionary funding due to regular requirement to attend hospital (such as for ongoing treatment), or where they live. For those regularly attending hospital their existing transport arrangements will continue until 30th September 2017. Any new arrangements from today’s date, or any ongoing transport requirement after 30th September will only be paid for if the patient qualifies under the nationally set eligibility criteria.

The next biggest change will be to the capped cost transport offered until now by our friends at Age UK Cornwall under their ‘TAP’ scheme. Patients could, until now, access transport where the costs would be capped at £20, with the difference paid by the NHS. This scheme had no eligibility criteria. This cap on costs will no longer be available although Age UK Cornwall will be continuing to offer transport to those in need of help. Of course we at Volunteer Cornwall work very closely with Age UK Cornwall on patient transport and will also continue to offer volunteer driven car transport.

The help that people living on the Isles of Scilly receive will be improving as people can now claim assistance getting from their home island to St Mary’s and then onwards to the mainland.

The big issue therefore for a lot of people who are used to getting help paying for their transport to medical appointments is going to be: firstly, do I qualify under the national eligibility criteria, and secondly, what do I need to do next.

To receive help with travel costs from the NHS you must fulfil three conditions:

Condition 1 is linked to your benefit entitlement – if you receive any of the following benefits or allowances then you meet Condition 1:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit (with some additional criteria related to your net income)
  • If you have, or are entitled to an NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • If you have a low income and qualify for help under the NHS Low Income Scheme

 Condition 2 is linked to your need for treatment – If you have a referral from a healthcare professional for a specialist or to a hospital for further NHS treatment then you meet condition 2

Condition 3 is linked to your need to travel for the treatment – If your appointment requires a separate visit to the time of your referral, i.e. is on another day, or is at a different location, then you meet condition 3

So, if you think that you would qualify for assistance with your travel costs what do you need to do? When you go for your appointment you will have to go to the cashiers’ office at the hospital (this will sometimes be referred to as the General Office, or Patient Affairs Office) you attend and show them evidence of your benefit entitlement, your appointment details, and a receipt for your travel costs. If you think that you might qualify for help under the NHS Low Income Scheme then this is something that you will have to look into in advance of your appointment as there claiming this involves completing a lot of forms and waiting to find out if you have been accepted. It is worth bearing in mind that the office might not be open if your appointment is early in the morning or later in the afternoon so it might be worth checking.