A health watchdog says patients are finding it more difficult than ever to access hospital services, saying the stress, anxiety and cost of getting to appointments is now a major issue.

A Healthwatch Bucks study found a raft of public concerns over the lack of public transport and poor connections, confusion over transport schemes and high parking costs at hospitals.

Among the findings, 80 per cent of people surveyed had not heard of any of the transport options and schemes that are available to patients.

Stressed patients also reported arriving up to an hour before their appointments to ensure they could find a parking space costing up to £1.50 per hour.

And residents in Chesham say they are forced to spend hours on three separate buses to Stoke Mandeville that are not run on a coordinated timetable.

Project lead Janice Campbell said: "Healthwatch Bucks set up this review because people told us that transport was one of their biggest problems when accessing health services.

"With the changes to health services in Bucks, people of all ages wanted to know how to travel to hospital for appointments, for Accident and Emergency or to visit friends and family.

"Through people sharing their experiences and giving us their ideas for improvement we can ensure that public voice is heard and we are looking forward to further discussions with local Health and Transport providers about how improvements can be made."

She added that better information for patients and staff and better communication between transport providers and health services were "urgently needed".

The report was compiled by Healthwatch Bucks volunteers who spoke to 416 people about their experiences of traveling to medical appointments.

Other recommendations from the study include an urgent review involving the public on car parking at Wycombe, Amersham and Wexham Park Hospitals and clearer guidance on transport schemed available to patients.

Ozma Hafiz, coordinator of the Hand Back Our Hospital Campaign, says much of the problem stems from ‘centralising’ services away from High Wycombe to places like Stoke Mandeville nearly 15 miles away.

She said: "It once again highlights the need for local services as people are struggling to travel the great distances.

It's glaringly obvious from the report that services should be closer to home once more.

"In spite of asking, I'm yet to see any evidence that services such as respiratory, overnight children's services etc. are doing better since being centralised.

"Distance to services is having a real impact on people."

BCC transport Cabinet Member Mark Shaw said he welcomed the report from Healthwatch Bucks and has vowed to consider its recommendations.

He said: "They raise a number of issues which we’ll look at carefully in the coming days.

"It’s important that we have a good two-way dialogue with health services, so that in commissioning socially necessary transport, we can do our best to meet needs within the budget available."

David Williams, director of strategy at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said: “We welcome the report. Although three quarters of the people surveyed said they did not consider that they had any difficulties in getting to hospital appointments, we recognise there is still more to do for some specific groups of patients. 

"We will work with Healthwatch and partners, including the local council and Transport for Bucks, to continue to ensure services are as accessible as possible for patients across Buckinghamshire and make sure people are aware of the options available to them.

“We continue to fund free bus travel for patients, staff and visitors between our main sites, and have recently invested in a major scheme to provide around 400 extra spaces at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

"If patients wish to explore the options available, they are encouraged to contact www.buckshealthcare.nhs.uk.”