Synchronise health visits and transport, MLA urges

HOSPITALS must try to synchronise outpatient appointments for rural dwellers with public transport timetables, East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan has urged.

The Sinn Fein representative has also won cross-party support for a motion calling on the Stormont finance, regional development and health departments to work together to see that people living in the countryside can visit relatives in hospital.

“I welcome the announcement last week that Translink will timetable the afternoon bus service from Larne to Antrim five minutes earlier to ensure that people are at Antrim station in time for the connection to the area hospital,” he said.

“However, the new measure does not solve the problem of people from rural areas who want to make evening hospital visits, nor does it help people to get to health appointments if they don’t have cars,” said Mr McMullan.

“People can get the bus from Larne to visit at Antrim hospital in the evenings, but there is no return journey. And I am aware that many people, whether they are outpatients or visitors, rely on relatives, friends or neighbours or taxis to get them to the hospital because even where there is a bus or train that suits, it is very daunting, especially for older people.”

The MLA urged: “Hospitals need to be aware of the problems of rural dwellers and try to arrange appointments to tie in with public transport.”

. There is no point, for example, expecting someone from Carnlough or Glenarm to be at a hospital in Belfast for 10am if they don’t have their own car.

“I also think that the ministers for health, regional development and finance need to get together and come up with solutions. Even the Community Transport Scheme, while it still takes people for hospital visits, it is no longer allowed to cover appointments.

“I brought this to the floor of the Assembly and had all-party support for a motion that called for changes to the present transport arrangements, which alienate rural dwellers,” Mr McMullan revealed.