Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme is ‘hard for Islington residents to access’

NHS doctor. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Images

NHS doctor. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Patients with GP appointments are not receiving correct information about claiming for travel expenses, according to a local health and social care watchdog.

An investigation by Healthwatch Islington found that none of the staff at 16 surgeries around the borough knew about the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme.

Introduced in April 2008, it allows patients on low incomes to claim travel expenses to and from various medical and dental services, providing they’ve been referred directly by a doctor, dentist or medical consultant.

They can also claim travel costs for children who have been referred to these services.

As part of the investigation, volunteer “secret shoppers” contacted nine hospitals and 16 GP practices – both inside and outside the borough – that serve Islington residents.

Most of the hospitals knew about the scheme, but none of the GP reception staff had heard of it.

In two cases, staff said that reimbursement of travel expenses was for hospital appointments only while two others suggested that patients go to the Post Office to claim.

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Emma Whitby, chief executive of Healthwatch Islington, said: “Many secondary care services that used to be delivered in hospitals are now available at health centres and GP practices.

“We need to get the message out to providers that this scheme isn’t just for hospital appointments. The scheme supports disadvantaged members of the community – it has to be accessible.”

Healthwatch Islington decided to investigate after receiving feedback from users of the scheme. Some said it was complicated and inaccessible; they also complained that it was not managed in a consistent way across the borough.

The watchdog is now calling for changes to be made to increase awareness of the scheme and make it easier to use.

A spokesman said: “We’d like GP practices to make claim forms available, and to let their patients know that this support is available for secondary care appointments. We’d also like all local hospitals to offer the possibility of making claims by post and to supply prepaid envelopes.”

A spokeswoman for the Islington Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The CCG is working with Health Watch on the recommendations and will be raising awareness with its GP members on the scheme. It is important that we understand the experience of patients, especially if this affects their ability to access healthcare and will continue to work with practices, hospitals and GPs in order to improve this.”