The real cost of medical treatment






For over seventy years we’ve been able to receive medical care free at the point of need on the NHS – such a privilege, which makes us the envy of the world.  However, whilst our health care may not cost us, the same cannot be said of our transport to access that care.

  Despite all the fine words about care ‘as close to home as possible’, many of us know – to our cost – just how expensive it can be to travel to our appointments.  For over twenty years, West Cornwall HealthWatch has doggedly campaigned to keep services at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance.  The journey to Treliske is challenging for many people - a round trip of seventy miles if you live in West Penwith.  Try doing that on public transport if you are ill or in severe pain, spending about four hours on the bus not counting the waiting and the walk to and from home, whilst paying £13 for the privilege.  If you are disabled and try to use the bus you may find, as one local lady did, that she couldn’t board because the disabled space was already occupied, so she missed her appointment. 

A wheelchair-enabled taxi now costs her £65 each way.  Or, if you have a car, you have to check you have the money not just for the petrol but also to park at the hospital (£5.80 for up to four hours, £14.40 if over six hours).  If you have to visit regularly, or have treatment several times a week, the costs mount up.  Sometimes discretionary help is available, but it isn’t well publicised, and many people never discover it.  Furthermore, with the reduction in financial assistance for cancer patients, fifteen visits over five weeks with a voluntary transport provider will come to over £600.  There can come a point where a patient simply runs out of money and is left with a stark choice of either going into debt or turning his back on vital treatment to support his future health and well-being. 


It’s not just travelling to Truro where costs can be crippling.  Pressures on GP practices mean that some are closing their doors.  Locally, Pendeen branch surgery currently faces an uncertain future.  Up to a thousand patients in the village, many of whom are elderly, or with long term conditions, or with no transport, and living on limited means, rely on their local surgery. To travel on the bus into Penzance to the main surgery would cost £7.50.  Try doing that if you’re a single mum with two children - £15 just to get to see the doctor with a sick child.  Or try coping with a three-hour round trip on public transport to get to the surgery and back home, when you’re frail or confused.  Even travelling from Pendeen to St Just costs £5.40 return on the bus.  It’s a lot of money to find when you are struggling to make ends meet, and many older people have no family nearby to help with transport.


At a time when we need to reduce our carbon footprint and consider every journey we make, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure the provision of health services where we can walk to access them, not expect the sick to struggle both financially and physically to get there. 


West Cornwall HealthWatch continues to campaign for local health services.  Contact us if you have a story to tell about getting to hospital or to your local surgery: