NHS trusts consider taking action against DHL over constant problems with patient transport service

The Whittington Hospital in North London. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The Whittington Hospital in North London. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

NHS hospital trusts have discussed taking action against courier giant DHL, which has been subject to endless complaints since taking over patient transport services in September.

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Whittington Health, North Middlesex, Moorfields and the Royal Free all outsourced their non-emergency transport system for patients who need help getting to and from appointments.

DHL has been providing Patient Transport Services in London for over 20 years, but people have complained of long waits, missed pickups, and care home residents have even been refused transport, according to watchdog Healthwatch Islington. Some areas have since improved and no action will be taken for now, but the trusts say they are monitoring the service.

Care home managers reported some residents who were previously eligible are now not, including people who have a wheelchair or support from a carer. They were being told to make their own way to hospital and paying for taxis out of their Personal Expenses Allowance. Family members have also been refused permission to travel with relatives.

"It feels a bit like health services pushing costs on to social care or to individuals," Healthwatch said.

Healthwatch CEO Emma Whitby acknowledged there had been improvements recently but stressed the main concern was still the apparent eligibility changes.

"It's just not clear what the criteria is regarding who is eligible," she said. "They keep telling me it hasn't changed but the way it's applied has. For patients it feels like a reduction in service."

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Chief nurse Michelle Johnson said at a Whittington board meeting last month that letters of apology had been sent to patients and the trusts were holding weekly meetings to review cases.

In statements, the Whittington and Royal Free told this paper: "We are pleased there have been improvements in the performance of the non-emergency patient transport service provided by DHL. There have been no sanctions imposed on DHL but we will continue to monitor progress on a daily basis to ensure the expected standards are met and maintained."

In November this newspaper spoke to Husman Kanu, a 65-year-old from Tottenham who waited for more than three hours in the Whittington waiting room after a physiotherapy appointment.The amputee who uses a wheelchair and has weekly appointments said: "I always have problems, man. I was there for more than three hours, just waiting. I was almost crying inside because I can't move."DHL declined to comment.