We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Hopper bus - the axe hovers again

December 6, 2015 12:01 PM

A message from Cllrs Chivers and Osborns:

On Thursday 26th November a lobby of users of the RUH Hopper bus presented a petition with five thousand names to Wiltshire Health and Well Being Board at County Hall. The petition's object was to secure the future of this valuable service. We wish to sincerely thank all those who attended the lobby and signed the petition.

The fact that Wiltshire Health and Well Being Board was the focus of attention is significant, as this body has representatives from both Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It is now recognised that the long term future of the Hopper depends upon the NHS, via Wiltshire CCG, making a financial contribution. We understand that the sum of £75,000 is required.

It is fully appreciated that the NHS is financially strapped, but not to provide this relatively small sum really would be a totally false economy. In recent years health economists have developed the concept of the pyramid of care. Basically this means that intervention made at the lowest level prevents later more acute demands rising up to the apex of the pyramid. If the Hopper ceases, people requiring outpatient treatment will find it difficult to attend the RUH. Consequently their condition would worsen, become acute, and the ultimate costs of their being hospitalised will be considerably greater than £75,000.

This has been discussed with local MPs. To his credit, Dr Andrew Murrison MP supports our case. Regretfully others consider that local Link schemes and community buses can replace the Hopper. If they believe this, they are not living in the real world. Link schemes are finding it increasingly hard to manage. To expect them to pick up the Hopper service demands would in effect destroy them. Much the same can be said regarding community buses, especially as Wiltshire Council is axing the majority of subsidised regular bus services.

The case for retaining the Hopper is irrefutable, but it seems we must continue to campaign and lobby until common sense prevails. Please raise this important cause wherever you can, especially with Wiltshire CCG, Southgate House, Pans Lane, Devizes, SN10 5EQ.

.........................................................

Background:

Wiltshire Council is conducting a pretend consultation about the future of the RUH Hopper service. WC Conservatives tried to axe the service earlier this year but were forced to delay the cut after a campaign by local residents. Now they're trying again and here's what they're saying:

"Due to the reduction in government funding and pressures on other services the council runs, the council announced last year it was unable to continue to fund this service on its own.

Following discussions with its health partners, funding was found through the Better Care Fund to continue the services until the end of March 2016.

Since those discussions the council has been working hard to find a sustainable solution, however this might mean a reduced service and this consultation is helping to prepare for that.

The consultation is asking people and organisations about any impacts changes to the RUH Hopper service would have on them.

A questionnaire is available until 27 November via www.wiltshire.gov.uk/wiltshire-hopper-survey. Copies will also be available on the Hopper or by calling 0345 456 0100.

Philip Whitehead, cabinet member for transport, said: "We have made it very clear that we can no longer afford to run this service without the help of our partners and the people and organisations who benefit from the service.

"We know how valuable it is to many people in the community, and we are keen to work with them and our partners to help keep a service running."

The consultation asks what effect any changes would have on their journey to hospital, or on their organisation's activities or the people they represent. No decision will be made until the responses to the consultation have been considered, the impacts assessed, options investigated and funding secured.

Earlier this year Wiltshire Council, the Clinical Care Group (CCG), the RUH and GWH allocated money from the Better Care Fund to provide a service until the end of the current financial year (31 March 2016). There is also an agreement to prepare a case to seek further funding to keep the service running beyond this date, however this may well require a reduction in the annual subsidy to make it more affordable.

The Hopper currently provides a service to and from the hospital every hour on Monday to Fridays between 7.20am and 5.30pm, from a wide area of western Wiltshire including Warminster, Westbury, Trowbridge, Melksham, Corsham and Bradford on Avon.
It will pick up passengers on request from anywhere within its operating area, with bookings required to be made by at least 10am the day before travel.

Originally the service was jointly funded by Wiltshire Council, the NHS and the government. When funding from the government and the NHS ceased a few years later, Wiltshire Council continued to fund the service.

The council currently spends around £150,000 a year supporting it. With nearly 15,000 passenger journeys a year being made, the support per passenger trip works out at over £10."

........................................

Here's a letter from Jeff Osborn:

First, we wish to thank all those people who have supported the campaign to save the RUH Hopper. This is a vital service for local people that takes them directly from their home address right to the RUH Bath.

The wide support that was manifest in the spring of this year was sufficient to cause the Wiltshire Council Leadership and the NHS to reconsider their proposals to axe this valuable and much appreciated service. Once again, thank you.

However, as anticipated, the powers that be have now put forward new proposals to limit the Hopper service or even totally axe it. The proposals on limiting it include cuts in its frequency plus increasing the charges for the Hopper.

We concede that there may be a case with altering the frequency, but would ask that the RUH consequently allows greater flexibility with outpatients' appointments. When it comes to increasing charges we are strongly opposed. Apparently the charge would go up to £16.00 for a return journey. To be fair there is a reduction to £12.00 for those with a concessionary fare card. Nonetheless, a considerable number of Hopper users go to the RUH a number of times a week. Any increase would make the cost prohibitive for them and (force) them not to use the Hopper. Hence, we urge all those who value the Hopper to robustly object to this proposal.

It goes without saying that we are categorically opposed to the total curtailing of the Hopper service. We sincerely hope that the wider public adopts a similar stance.

There are a number of way in which people can express their opinion on this important matter:

  1. Contact your local councillor and MP to let them know the strength of your feelings.
  2. There is our new online petition http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/ruh-hopper . Please be aware that this is an absolutely new petition. So if you signed the earlier one, please make sure that you now sign this one.
  3. Wiltshire Council has a questionnaire on the Hopper. This can be accessed at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/wiltshire-hopper-survey . Please complete this bearing in mind the points that we have touched upon.

The only way the vital Hopper service can be saved is by local people showing the strength of their feelings in the methods outlined above. Also talk to your friends. Ask them to support the SAVE THE HOPPER campaign.

Helen Osborn

Jeff Osborn

Independent Wiltshire Councillors