Seriously-ill patients have condemned ambulance transport delays which are disrupting vital kidney dialysis care.
Hold-ups are leaving them with less time for treatment, as well as causing them significant stress, say angry patients.
Taxis have been drafted in to transport people to hospital following changes to services in November ordered by the Yorkshire Ambulance Service which is said to have run up cab bills in excess of £10,000 in the weeks leading to Christmas alone.
Those affected are in a network of seven dialysis centres travelling for treatment at St James’s and Seacroft hospitals, another unit in Beeston, and others in Pontefract, Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Halifax.
NHS chiefs have admitted problems with services which patients blame on cost cutting by ambulance managers.
Janice Richardson, 52, of Horsforth, who has had two failed kidney transplants and travels to Seacroft Hospital for dialysis three times a week, said within days of the new system starting travel became a “nightmare”, with delays of up to two hours.
“A lot of patients have had their time reduce on dialysis because they’re getting in so late - it puts a massive strain on your health. When it doesn’t turn up it makes you so uptight,” she said.
“I don’t understand how it’s so difficult for them to sort it out because it’s the same patients at the same time on the same day every week. It’s affecting so many people - it’s unbelievable. It’s difficult enough having dialysis without this.”
Stuart Wineberg, 76, of Moortown, said the service was “diabolical”. He had seen a number of distressed patients worried about when they would be picked up to return home.
He was forced to endure long journeys to and from hospital as drivers took detours to pick up and set down other patients, on one occasion taking more than two hours from his scheduled departure, but his complaints to ambulance chiefs had been ignored.
“Lots of people are dissatisfied but nothing’s been done about it,” he said.
Another patient Joan Simpson, 74, of Yeadon, who has had dialysis for 11 years, said on one occasion no one had arrived to pick her up and she ended up travelling by taxi which arrived 15 minutes after she was due to have started dialysis.
“It’s not the ambulance drivers’ fault - far from it - it’s the management that need to get their act together,” she said.
Tony Waterworth, 77, of Rawdon, said he was arriving more than an hour late on occasions for his 8.45am start-time and only returning home as late as 4pm due to delays getting return transport.
He said: “These are seriously ill people and they don’t need all this worry and anxiety. We’re on a life sentence for this treatment for ever more unless we get a transplant. It’s absolutely dreadful. They’re putting people’s lives at risk.
“What has happened is they’ve put a low figure in for the contract and have now found they can’t afford it. The staff at Seacroft are so devoted and marvellous but they’re affected by this ridiculous transport situation too.”
A spokesman for the GP-led clinical commissioning groups in Leeds, which pay for services, said: “We are aware that recent changes to the provision of transport services for renal dialysis patients have resulted in unexpected delays and inconvenience for them.
“We are also aware that some patients have not been able to access the full four hours of treatment they would normally expect. We are working with our providers in implementing actions to ensure we can provide the best possible care for our patients. This sometimes includes our providers using taxis to transport patients to meet our objective of providing high-quality and timely care.”
Alan Baranowski, associate director of patient transport service at Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: “We would like to apologise for any delays which have been experienced by renal patients when being taken for dialysis treatment by our patient transport service.
“While our overall performance for getting patients to hospital on time compared to last year has got better, we do recognise the need for further improvement.
“It’s vital that patients get to their appointments on time and we have been recruiting additional staff to our renal transport service to help with this.”