Eastbourne hospital travel: Campaign makes ‘real progress’ following Westminster debate

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The Herald joined the MP for Eastbourne in Parliament last week when the hospital travel campaign made it into a Westminster debate.

Back in October 2021 the Herald joined forces with MP Caroline Ansell to find out if there is a need for a hospital shuttle bus.

Since then residents have completed a survey, the matter has been touched on in Parliament, and plans are in place for a meeting with the health minister.

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Last week (Wednesday, March 9), Herald reporter India Wentworth joined Mrs Ansell in London for a Westminster Hall debate on the topic with Health Minister Edward Argar.

Herald reporter India Wentworth with MP Caroline Ansell in Parliament (9-3-22). SUS-221003-142354001Herald reporter India Wentworth with MP Caroline Ansell in Parliament (9-3-22). SUS-221003-142354001
Herald reporter India Wentworth with MP Caroline Ansell in Parliament (9-3-22). SUS-221003-142354001

Mrs Ansell said, “Over the past years, however, the hospital story is one of reconfiguration of services; reconfiguration of maternity, paediatrics and, most recently, cardiology and ophthalmology services are under consideration in the name of the pursuit of clinical excellence.”

She said although she recognises the value of ‘clinical excellence and specialisms’, drawing on her personal experiences with her son, ‘the sorry truth’ is that one in four families in Eastbourne don’t have a car which causes the journey between hospitals to be ‘costly and difficult’.

Mrs Ansell told the room the different ways and concluded ‘it is unsurprising that almost everyone attempts to drive between hospital sites, rather than use public transport’.

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She pointed out that in 2019 the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust carried out a survey which showed 83 per cent of DGH staff and 91 per cent of Conquest staff would use a shuttle bus if there was one available.

Mrs Ansell then went on to discuss the findings from her survey with the Herald and pointed out other trusts that have successful shuttle bus systems in place.

She said, “Ultimately, this is about access to hospital services and health equalities. When a hospital trust decides on good, clinical grounds that it will reconfigure services, what responsibility does it have towards those who are potentially left behind?”

Mrs Ansell ended by thanking the hospital teams across East Sussex and the Herald for continuing to cover the campaign.

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Edward Argar said he knows the area well due to family ties, so is aware of the ‘horror which is the A259’.

He said, “The challenges of getting between the three sites are considerable. My hon. Friend alluded to the bus routes. There are bus routes but she is right that, certainly in one case, a change must be made to make the connecting journey.”

However, Mr Argar said if the shuttle bus proposals were to go ahead, although some journeys would be quicker, some would be slower.

He encouraged the trust to ‘continue looking at such options’ and promised to speak to NHS England to arrange a meeting.

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Mr Argar also said he would look into visiting Eastbourne next month for a meeting with Mrs Ansell to discuss the issue further.

Speaking after the debate Mrs Ansell said, “The debate in Parliament has proved to be an important catalyst and it was the right space to bring forward this important issue for the people of Eastbourne.

“The minister recognised the significance of what I said. He has committed to working with me on the question of access to hospital care.

“Since the debate last week, I have spoken with the hospital trust. I am pleased to report that they have agreed to revisit their 2019 shuttle bus travel survey for staff and critically, they will also do the data work to establish the scale and scope of patient travel. This information is vital to designing the right transport response. This is real progress. I thank the trust for doing this.

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“Further, patient transport will now be the agenda at the Sussex Health & Care Partnership once we have these important insights.

“I’m really pleased that a number of key partners are now coming together to wrestle with this – it’s important to patients, their carers and families.”

Catch up on previous pieces on our Eastbourne hospital travel campaign: