MP asks government to consider subsidising travel for patients

Island MP Bob Seely has asked the government to consider subsidising travel for patients undergoing treatment on the mainland.

In a letter to health Minister Steve Brine, Bob said the Isle of Wight is the only UK island with no subsidised ferry travel to support local residents in accessing healthcare

“I believe this is both unfair and, in the long run, costs the NHS a considerable amount of money in lost appointments,” Bob said.

The MP pointed out that in Cornwall travel expenses regulations from 2003 allows any low-income resident of the Isles of Scilly who is not entitled to payment in full of NHS travel expenses, only has to pay a maximum of £5 for their travel costs.

“Such a system does not apply to the Isle of Wight,” he told the minister in the letter. “Although some on the Isle of Wight meet the narrow definition of being on a low income and would benefit from having such costs met, many residents have to regularly access healthcare treatment on the mainland—such as those with prostate cancer, who may need 40 trips, and face difficulty in affording the associated and often repeated costs.

“I believe it is inequitable and unfair for one set of English islands to enjoy such a benefit when others do not. It is yet another example of the Isle of Wight not being treated fairly.”

Bob pointed out the that subsidy only exists due to the generosity of the ferry companies who offer special tickets.

“I am grateful to those operators for putting those arrangements in place, and to the NHS on the Isle of Wight for negotiating them, but the reality is that even with such discounts, the cost of trips to access healthcare on the mainland can place a great financial burden on patients, which is at odds with the NHS’s founding principle of being free at the point of delivery.

“I am therefore asking you to amend the 2003 regulations to extend that statutory requirement to the Isle of Wight, as well as the Isles of Scilly. That would be a significant step forward and would have a transformational effect on the lives of many of my constituents who go to the mainland for treatment.

“We are talking about numbers in the low tens of thousands, and funding those visits would require relatively small amounts of money.”

Bob added the cash would need to come from NHS England and not from the local Clinical Commissioning Group budget otherwise the costs could lead to cuts in frontline services.