PATIENTS at South Hams hospital have been asked to travel as far away as Liskeard, due to broken equipment and a referral system unresponsive to the needs of an elderly population.

The hospital’s main x-ray machine has also been out-of-order for four months, while Livewell South West, the company who manage the hospital, wait for Plymouth NHS Trust to source a replacement part.

The hospital still has a working mobile x-ray machine, but this can only be used for smaller scans.

One patient, who didn’t wish to be named, contacted the Gazette to say: ‘As a patient in Kingsbridge with a damaged rib, I was referred to South Hams hospital for a routine x-ray.’

‘I was shocked when I rang for an appointment and was told that I would have to travel to either Liskeard, Plymouth or Torbay, because the x-ray machine at Kingsbridge is not working. The machine has not been available for over four months, due to to a missing part.’

’It’s completely outrageous that an essential piece medical equipment should be left in this way. This results in increased expense and additional stress for patients, many of whom are elderly with increasing medical needs and restrictive options for transport.’

‘I have contacted Dr Wollaston MP about this, who I know has approached the trust for an explanation but is yet to receive a response.’

District and county councillor Rufus Gilbert said: ‘This has recently been brought to my attention and I was sorry to hear so. Dr Sarah Wollaston MP has asked for an update on this one. If anyone can get an answer, she can!’

Dr Wollaston told the Gazette this week: ‘I first made enquiries about this back in February when it was brought to my attention and it is unacceptable to have such a long delay in restoring the service.

‘This inconveniences local people and increases the pressure of avoidable attendances at Derriford A&E.’

A spokesperson for Livewell Southwest, the company who manage the hospital, said: ‘Livewell Southwest understand the importance of providing a full X-ray provision at Kingsbridge hospital and we are sorry to hear reports of patients having to travel as far as Torpoint and Launceston in order to receive a service.?‘As the service provider, we want to secure a longer term solution for local people in the South Hams area.

‘We have put forward a proposal to Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, who currently own the x-ray equipment and employ the radiographers, for Livewell Southwest to purchase a new machine in order that people can access treatment closer to home.’

This comes on top of news that other patients in need of specialist clinics have been sent as far away as Torpoint and Launceston, despite being recommended to be seen at South Hams hospital by their GP.

Following a GP’s referral to the hospital, patients then receive referral letters from Devon Referral Support Services with instructions to phone for an assessment appointment.

Some patients are then told that they cannot be seen at Kingsbridge, even when it is known that the consultant they are due to see holds a clinic at Kingsbridge hospital.

DRSS claim on their website that they give patients ‘the right to chose’, but it appears that this does not happen in all cases.

The NHS Constitution explicitly gives people living in England the right to choose where to receive treatment.

On the NHS website it states: ‘You can choose the organisation that provides your NHS care when you’re referred for your first appointment with a consultant. So if your GP recommends that you see a specialist, you can choose where and when to see them.’

However, the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group have ruled that patients have to be seen first by a primary care unit, i.e. Sentinel in Derriford.

They must do that before being seen at Kingsbridge, which is deemed to be a secondary care unit.

This can involve patients making a totally unnecessary trip to either Derriford or even Torpoint in Cornwall, when they could see the same consultant at Kingsbridge.

Daphne Jefferson, chair of South Hams Hospital League of Friends said: ‘We have known for some time that local patients appear to be directed away from using Kingsbridge hospital in some instances.’

Daphne has taken up the matter with Jerry Clough, chief operating officer of NEW Devon CCG, who has promised to look into the referral system.

Daphne reported that: ‘One patient was referred to Torpoint in Cornwall for an assessment appointment, and was refused a choice. The patient’s doctor had recommended that the patient should be seen by a consultant at his clinic at Kingsbridge Hospital.

‘However, this unnecessary trip to Torpoint involved an 88 mile round trip from home, as the patient was unable to use the ferry across the Tamar. It is clearly very upsetting and not in the interests of the patient.’

The League of Friends has now set up an email address so that they can be contacted. Patients can feel vulnerable, and may wish to remain anonymous, but the league would be pleased to hear from anyone if their treatment is available at Kingsbridge and they have been referred elsewhere.

The league would like to ensure that all South Hams patients have the opportunity of using South Hams hospital whenever possible, saving them the long and often difficult journeys to other hospitals or clinics out of the area.

The email address is [email protected].