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A ‘second class’ service will not help famiily and friends visiting from Redditch
“SECOND class” transport links between the north and south of the county must be improved if plans to centralise hospital services in Worcester are to go ahead, it has been claimed.
A&E, paediatric and maternity services could be bolstered at Worcester if hospital bosses go ahead with plans to downgrade Redditch Alexandra Hospital in an ongoing reconfiguration aimed at saving £50 million.
But leaders at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust have acknowledged that transport links will need huge improvement before any overhaul goes ahead.
A report produced by Worcestershire County Council in 2010 found just 22 per cent of Redditch residents could access Worcestershire Royal Hospital using public transport during the day on Monday to Friday, with that figure dropping to zero at weekends and evenings.
And campaigners say that situation has not improved, with only six buses a day heading to Worcester during the week and a connecting journey being required to reach the hospital.
A return taxi trip costs more than £50 while train journeys to Worcester Foregate Street take more than an hour-and-a-half.
The train option also involves a change at Birmingham, where more patients from the north of the county could end up being treated if an alternative option for a Birmingham-based trust to take over the Alexandra is chosen.
The acute trust says a thorough transport plan would need to be part of any consultation for change and is looking to establish a countywide group working with Worcestershire County Council, clinical commissioning groups and West Midlands Ambulance Service.
Chief executive Penny Venables said: “Whatever the outcome, there will be issues around transport and the sooner we start looking at it the better.”
She said the difficulties would likely not be for patients themselves but for friends and family wanting to visit them.
“Wherever we centralise, the kind of cases that are predominantly taken there will be blue light ambulance,” she said. “But what has come across to us is that it is not the patient, it is how their family come and visit. It is no good if there is only a bus once a week.”
Neal Stote, chairman of the Save the Alex campaign group, is pleased to see transport issues being acknowledged.
But he does not believe it is a problem that can realistically be solved without considerable investment.
“There is no new money for this so it is going to take money away from what are potentially vulnerable subsidised routes,” he said. “It will be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul for what will still be a second class transport system compared to what is already in place to get to Birmingham.
“People are already choosing Birmingham because it is where they can get to.”
Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet member for highways, Councillor John Smith, said: “The council is committed to working with partners, public and private, to promote the best possible public transport services across Worcestershire.”
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