A leading councillor is calling on the ferry companies to give “absolute priority” to NHS patients, after hearing first-hand about the nightmare ordeal faced by Kay Evans of Godshill, as she tried to get her husband, Paul, to Portsmouth to access cancer treatment.
Councillor Phil Jordan, newly responsible for transport at the council, called for the ferry companies to rearrange leisure travel if necessary to provide patient travel. He promised to take the issue up with the ferry companies after reading the couple’s story in the IW Observer and discussing the issues with them this week. The ferry companies had told him they do give priority to NHS patients, but he says their measures don’t go far enough.
Our front page article three weeks ago (IW Observer, July 2) told how Kay was unable to book ferries that tied in with Paul’s hospital appointments because crossings were fully booked.
She also tried to telephone Wightlink to change an NHS booking, three times holding for over an hour. At the time Paul needed to travel by car because four times his cancer surgery required general anaesthetic, leaving him too unwell to travel as a foot passenger.
Although the problems occurred when Wightlink’s largest vessel was out of action, as the ferries fill up with holiday-makers over the summer months, NHS patients are still likely to face difficulties booking convenient crossings.
Cllr Jordan said: “What we are asking for is that the companies commit to a policy of priority for NHS lifeline appointments, both to get to hospital and to return to the Island after treatment.
“We want and need that priority and the companies should ensure that passengers needing NHS treatment can book the crossings they need. If ferries are fully booked, then I’m afraid that passengers travelling alongside NHS lifeline passengers must have rearranged journeys. NHS passengers should get absolute priority.
“We also need a booking policy for people that do not have internet access. That is simple to implement on a modern telephone system.”
Paul and Kay said: “We are delighted that Cllr Jordon is asking questions of the ferry companies about their NHS crossing policies, and we hope new public service commitments. Islanders need a dedicated phone number or ‘push button option’ for NHS bookings. For many people, these are, at a time of personal stress and serious medical conditions, really ‘lifeline’ services.
“Island residents in these circumstances should reasonably expect priority when they need to take their car for an appointment, where often treatment is both painful and distressing.”
The cross-Solent operators received grants from a special £10 million fund to continue providing services during the pandemic, after the government were told that the services were absolutely essential for Islanders.
Paul and Kay said: “The fact that these are truly lifeline services should not, in our view, merely be highlighted when grants are required, but a fundamental element of their everyday service to Island NHS patients who need sympathy and support.”
Both ferry companies told the IW Observer that they give priority to NHS travellers. A spokesman for Wightlink said: “Wightlink is sorry that some NHS patients had problems securing the sailings they wanted while Victoria of Wight was withdrawn from service for engine repairs.
“Wightlink advises Islanders crossing the Solent for NHS appointments to call the Contact Centre as soon as they can to book space on their preferred crossing when an appointment is made, especially at busy times.
“Wightlink will always do its best to get people travelling to the mainland on the sailing they request although, if a ferry is fully booked, they will be offered an alternative.”
Fran Collins, Chief Executive of Red Funnel, said: “We recognise the essential role we have in providing an efficient and reliable service for Island residents to attend medical appointments.
“In general, the nature of appointments on the mainland is such that passengers book related travel well in advance, so we don’t have feedback suggesting that accessibility is an issue. However, where we know people are travelling for medical reasons, our customer services team are on hand to support passengers who require assistance in reaching medical appointments and can help on an individual basis. Customers wishing to find out more can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In a welcome updated Kay told us: “Thankfully my husband is now recovering well after extensive, unpleasant surgery at both Portsmouth hospitals.”
The IW Observer’s view:
We agree with Mr & Mrs Evans that these are lifeline services for Islanders all year round, not just when grants are required. When NHS treatment is not available on the Island, the ferry companies must step up and make sure Islanders have what Cllr Jordan calls “absolute priority” over other travellers.
What do you think? Tell us your experiences and let us know your views. Call 01983 221050 or email email@example.com.
Pic Cllr Jordan (left) talks to Paul Evans about ordeal.