My Lords, it is the responsibility of local NHS commissioners to decide how best to deliver patient transport services. We do not centrally monitor these waiting times. The eligibility criteria for patient transport services stipulate that patients should reach appointments in a reasonable time, in reasonable comfort and without detriment to their medical condition. Where local issues arise in the delivery of these services, we expect commissioners to take swift action.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Recently, I had to take my wife, who is extremely disabled, to hospital using hospital patient transport. After a satisfactory medical appointment we then had to wait three and a half hours for hospital transport to take us home. The following day I took her to another hospital and there we had to wait one and three-quarter hours. In the light of this experience, I asked around and discovered that some people are having to wait as long as six hours—and these are people who are extremely disabled, and some of them are without escorts to take them to the loo. Does the Minister agree that this is totally unsatisfactory and that there needs to be a proper system of monitoring and, if necessary, sanctioning the private companies that are now operating this service?
I am sorry to hear of the wait faced by the noble and right reverend Lord’s wife, and indeed others. Those delays do not sound acceptable. There are clear guidelines in the standard contract for commissioners to outline the quality of patient services, and they are inspected by the CQC. I would certainly be happy to meet him to talk about this in more detail and find out exactly what is going on.
My Lords, according to the NHS website, there are some areas in which patient transport services are not available. I want to ask the Minister two things about that. First, what should patients in those areas do if they need transport? Secondly, are the Government going to hold to account the CCGs that are not commissioning these services?
There are challenges in patient transport, particularly in rural areas. That was one of the reasons for the Department for Transport creating the Total Transport pilots in an attempt to deal with the problem. In Devon, the local authority and CCG are now working together to provide better transport. As I said, it is in the clinical commissioning standard contract to provide that kind of transport and NHS England is responsible for making sure that it is provided.
My Lords, the Minister said that there are no national targets in relation to patient transport services, but there are targets in relation to ambulance services. Can he tell the House when those targets were last met by the ambulance services in England? Can he also tell me why, in the mandate for 2017-18 to NHS England, no guarantee is given that the NHS will come back to meeting those ambulance targets? Can I take it that, just as the Government have now decided to drop the 18-week target for surgery, they are also dropping the idea of a target for ambulance services to be met?
I am afraid the noble Lord is wrong on the 18-week target—it has not been dropped. It is within the mandate. The 18-week target is being fulfilled in the vast majority of cases. Performance is much better than it was 10 years ago in terms of both median waits and the number of people who are waiting. I do not have the precise figure for ambulance services. However, they are in the mandate and local trusts are expected to deliver against the targets in the mandate.
My Lords, some patients cannot use patient transport. Your Lordships will be aware of the story in the press over the past 24 hours about the desperately ill young man and father of two. If he lives past midnight tomorrow, when the changes to the widowed parent’s allowance take effect, it will mean a substantial financial loss to his family. This is not a story—it is real. His wife and mother of his two children is a close friend of my wife. Other families will be in the same situation. Will the Minister talk to his ministerial colleagues so that the Government can display understanding and humanity and allow this brave young man to pass peacefully from this world with dignity, in the knowledge that the financial future of his children is taken care of?
I am sorry to hear about the case of this young man and offer my sympathies to both him and his family. I appreciate the urgency and I understand that this person may not have long to live. I shall certainly speak to colleagues as soon as humanly possible and come back to the noble Lord with information on the situation.
My Lords, the noble Lord said the Government have not dropped the 18-week target. What on earth, then, did the chief executive of the NHS mean when he said on Friday that the NHS would not achieve that target and that it would take less priority than other targets?
The chief executive of the NHS was talking about the relative priority and importance of achieving A&E waiting times in particular to the targets that it is not hitting at the moment. The five-year forward view delivery plan refers to the fact that elective operations will continue to increase and that the median wait may move marginally. However, it is worth pointing out that 10 years ago the median wait for an in-patient for an elective procedure was 15.6 weeks—under a Labour Government, of course—and in January this year it was 10.6 weeks. The median may increase but it is still within the 18-week target.
The five-year forward view delivery plan is a publication by NHS England. We continue to back it to deliver its ambitious plans, which include further increases in diagnostic tests and making sure that even more people survive cancer. We are focused on ensuring that the system is as efficient as possible in order to do this.
My Lords, the Minister speaks with such clear diction that we can hear every word he says. He is not producing a drama, but although I have been listening to him carefully, I do not think that he has answered the Question put to him by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. He asked what steps were being taken,
“to reduce waiting times for patients using hospital patient transport”.
I did not hear the answer. All I heard was that the Minister was willing to have a word with him, but it is not just about the noble and right reverend Lord and his wife. A lot of other people are in the same predicament. We want to know what those steps are. That is the nature of the Question and, if I did not hear the response, I apologise.
I thank the most reverend Primate for giving me the opportunity to come back on this. First, NHS England is working with clinical commissioning groups to make sure that the kind of delays outlined by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, do not happen. Also, a series of 39 pilots are being conducted in rural areas which are particularly badly affected by patient transport delays to put in place the kind of transport necessary to make sure that people who cannot get to hospitals and may miss appointments are able to do so.