A service that provides free patient transport to GP appointments in north west London could save £92.5k per year because of reduced home visits and missed appointments.
The PlusBus Health (PBH) service offers free assisted transport to 72 GP practices in Ealing and is run by the charity Ealing Community Transport (ECT), which is part of a larger social enterprise charity that has depots in London, Cheshire, and Dorset.
The service is aimed at patients who need transport for clinical reasons due to disability, lack of mobility, or other health problems. GPs make the judgement as to whether or not a patient should be offered the service based on their assessment of need.
North West London CCG commissioned PBH after a pilot in 2017.
Before commissioning, the CCG used data that was independently verified by accountancy firm Buzzacott to ascertain the potential impact of the services for practices and the NHS.
By looking at the behaviours and needs of a certain demographic of patient – specifically, age and mobility – the CCG was able to predict the effect of a transport service.
The data suggested annual savings of £92,480 could be made because house calls and missed appointments could be avoided. This comprises a 70% drop in home calls – 2,240 visits – saving £78,400 per year.
And it is estimated that the service will have saved 320 missed in-surgery appointments per year at a saving of £14,080 per annum.
The projected savings are based on each in-practice appointment costing £44 and the price of a home visit being £35.
The service, which is free to GP practices and to their patients, is about to undergo a review to ascertain the actual level of savings since about a third of the 72 eligible GP practices have not used the service.
A PBH spokeswoman said that uptake had been affected by the pandemic as well as some practices being unaware of the service.
In the year to April 2022, the service transported 7,952 patients to practice appointments.
The service is designed to be simple to use for GPs who are in control of booking, ensuring it’s reserved for those in greatest need. They can email or phone to arrange the transport.
The aim is for GPs to optimise patient healthcare while building independence and increased wellbeing amongst the older and disabled population.
Research presented to the Primary Care Commission Committee prior to the service being commissioned showed a range of benefits to both general practice and patients. As well as reducing the rates of missed appointments and home visits, PBH improved the quality and healthcare that patients received.
There was also a wellbeing benefit to patients who felt less isolated and more independent.
Fayyaz Dar, general manager at Ealing ECT said PBH helped the most vulnerable patients ‘who worry about the practicalities of leaving their home and “being a burden”’.