Bun Fight on the Buses

The leader of the Liberal Vannin Party has criticised the gov’s plans for elderly residents to travel to the island’s vaccine hubs.

Lawrie Hooper was allowed to ask an urgent question in this week’s Keys for how residents will access the hubs at Chester Street and the Airport which turned into a back and forth between himself and DHSC Minister David Ashford over the provision of bus services for northern and elderly residents.

Mr Ashford said that the sites were chosen because they are on or close to bus routes and also have plenty of parking. He said the gov has provided a list of bus routes and outlined how people can get to the hubs and is working towards creating small clinical hubs around the island, with the first one due to be created in Ramsey. 

He also said that some people, who are unable to use public transport will be taken by Patient Transfer Services to the hubs and back again. While housebound residents will be visited at home.

However, Mr Hooper said the DHSC was ‘unable to organise a bun fight in a brewery’ and criticised the lack of transport available for elderly residents, particularly those in the north of the island who would be required to change buses in Douglas and face a ‘over three hour round trip to the Airport’. 

He asked: ‘Why is the health minister absolutely incapable of making sure that transport arrangements are easy, the vaccines hubs are accessible for everybody and why is the DHSC unable to think far enough ahead to have realised they need to provide information and certainty for people who are genuinely concerned about not being able to access this vaccine simply because they cannot get to these vaccines hubs?

However Mr Ashford said Mr Hooper was speaking ‘complete and utter nonsense’ and that the gov’s Patient Transfer Service and the ConnectVillages service would be available for residents who were unable to use a regular bus service. He said that the vaccine hubs were the ‘quickest and most efficient way’ to get the vaccine roll out completed.

But Mr Hooper wasn’t done and pointed out that for his constituents who would need to get a ConnectVillages service into Ramsey in order to make a bus that would enable them to get to the airport for a 9am vaccine appointment, they would have to leave Ramsey at 7.20am but the ConnectVillages service doesn’t start until 8.40am so people can’t get to the bus station, let alone the airport.

The Lib Vannin Leader also shared the experience of a constituent who has health issues which makes a public bus service not a viable option and was advised to ‘perhaps get a taxi’ by the vaccine helpline. He added: ‘He [Mr Ashford] should be making sure that when he has previously promised to this House that adequate transport would be in place for people from the north that they actually make sure this happens rather than simply producing a leaflet. This is simply not acceptable to my constituents, absolutely not acceptable to me and should not be acceptable to this Honourable House.’

Firing back, Mr Ashford accused Mr Hooper, for the second time, of not listening to his answer and said: ‘There is appropriate transport in place in relation not just for buses, which he appears to have a fixation on, not just for taxis where it will cost an absolutely fortune for elderly people to get down. There is the ability to utilise the Patient Transfer Service where people have no other means of getting to the centre. As I have said before, if they cannot travel on a bus, if they cannot utilise the wider network of friends and family, there are other options available, as we said there would be.’

However, the sparring members did agree that the response given to Mr Hooper’s constituent was ‘completely unacceptable’ and Mr Ashford said the issue was being investigated.