Uber taxis could soon be used to transfer non-emergency patients from NHS hospitals.
One healthcare service trust has agreed a major deal with the taxi firm, intended to ensure that bed blocking is reduced.
Barts Health NHS trust in London will allow patients to use Uber for journeys including hospital appointments, it has been announced.
UberAssist disabled access cars will be utilised as part of this new arrangement.
Carers will also have access to more traditional forms of transport, with decisions being made likely regarding the most effective form of transport.
Patients will be looked after by the private company Cera under the terms of the new London scheme.
This will involve the popular smartphone application being utilised in order to arrange overnight care, book drivers and communicate with relatives and other interested parties.
Dr Ben Maruthappu, a former doctor and Cera’s co-founder, believes that the move will have a radically positive impact on the health service.
“This will radically integrate care and transport through technology. Older people and those with disabilities will now have access to the highest-quality drivers, while carers will be able to efficiently travel to ensure they can provide services in the right place at the right time. These partnerships tackle major challenges in the NHS, cracking down on bed-blocking and delayed discharges, while providing high-quality and efficient care.”
There are also plans for the clinical commissioning groups in Harrow, Brent and Hillingdon in north London to take advantage of the new service.
But the Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, warned that while such measures can have a positive impact on the social care system, they are no substitute for more sustained funding.
“Social care and the NHS are in such a state of crisis that any initiative to ease the pressure will be welcomed by patients and staff. But the funding chasm between what is needed and the pitiful amount councils currently have to commission care is too deep. Nothing short of an emergency injection of cash in the budget, followed by the sustained and realistic funding of health and care will be enough.”
Prentis also suggested that private firms have a tendency to cut corners.
“The government must also ensure that all companies that win care contracts don’t exploit staff and pay at the very least the minimum wage. Sadly there are still many out there breaking the law and getting away with it.”
However, David Mowat, minister for community and social care, indicated his belief that the Uber arrangement could represent a positive trend.
“This is an interesting and innovative proposal which will help raise awareness of the challenges faced by the vulnerable elderly, and those with specific conditions that are becoming increasingly common in our society.”