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Doubts raised over findings of £4,500 NHS report
DOUBTS have been raised over a £4,500 transport study which may have produced a massive underestimate of the extra distance set to be travelled by hospital patients and visitors in Bucks.
Health chiefs commissioned the study to assess the impact of removing several inpatient services from Wycombe Hospital and centralising the beds at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Cottee, a transport consulting firm based in Essex, estimated the changes would result in 44,600 extra kilometres being driven per year. This included the effect of a specialist breast care unit being created at Wycombe.
The report led NHS chiefs to say the controversial changes would only have a "small" impact on travel, before the changes were rubber-stamped in May.
But the Bucks Free Press has suggested assumptions made in the report appear to have skewed the results - and the estimated increase should be closer to 950,000 kilometres.
And after looking closely at the figures and methodology, Wycombe MP Steve Baker believes this estimate is closer to the mark.
He said: "We think you are absolutely right and they have underestimated the figures. It does look like they’ve made fundamental errors....They’ve spent £4,500 and it looks like they’ve got it wrong.
"The company should be looking again at this given what the Bucks Free Press has discovered. And they should be making a response to the charges that have been made at no further expense.
"If they have got it wrong they’ve got considerable explaining to do."
Cottee did not wish to comment, but asked the BFP to contact Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, for which it drew up the report.
The Trust was asked whether it agreed with the suggested figures, and whether the NHS would reconsider its assertion that the overall impact on travel is "small".
Spokesman Lee Jones said: "The transport impact assessment was carried out by independent specialists in the field, and the assumptions made by them are clearly outlined in the report.
"The assessment was based on looking at the whole of Buckinghamshire ward by ward and analysing what difference to travel the changes might make.
"Some assumptions were made about where people go now for treatment and where they might go in the future (and these assumptions are explained in the report). This sort of analysis seeks to show the high level impact of changes but cannot take account of patient choices and other factors."
See related links for background on the hospital changes and click here for the full transport assessment: Transport Statement - April 2012.pdf
SECTION 3 of the Cottee report explains the changes will affect 7,600 patients who currently use Wycombe Hospital - who will now be treated at Stoke Mandeville instead.
Although it seems obvious to assume these patients all live in the south of Bucks - the Cottee report assumes they "come from across the Trust area in proportion to the existing populations of each electoral ward".
This assumption was made because "there is no home postcode data available on patients who have recently made use of these services".
So the report suggests hundreds of patients from north Bucks are currently making the journey south to Wycombe Hospital - despite the fact Stoke Mandeville is closer.
This could include a diabetes inpatient from Winslow, for example, making a hour-long journey to Wycombe - despite Stoke Mandeville offering the same service and taking half the time to get to.
Mr Baker agrees with the BFP that it would be better to assume those 7,600 patients all live in wards closer to Wycombe Hospital - so travelling an average of 30km extra [there and back] to get to Stoke Mandeville.
Though patients from some areas, such as Great Missenden, would travel less than 30km, many would travel further from places such as High Wycombe and Marlow.
Meanwhile, the BFP suggested the 1,700 patients who will get specialist breast care from Wycombe, instead of going to Stoke Mandeville, would travel about 50km further on average.
Once multiple trips for visitors are accounted for under this method, as per the Cottee report, the total increase in kilometres travelled was estimated at just under 950,000.
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust challenged this figure, saying some patients do currently travel across the county for the some of the affected services, such as respiratory inpatients, which is primarily based at Wycombe Hospital. No figures were provided for this.
It said patient choice may also mean patients currently travel to a hospital which is further away - which could be due to shorter waiting times or personal preferences.
The Trust also claimed it was "incorrect" to assume the 7,600 will travel an average 30km extra. It said this does not take into account the variety of locations patients may travel from, adding: "This is why the assumptions had to be made in proportion to the populations."
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