FORMER volunteer ambulance driver Margaret Exton has blasted the service provided by Arriva Transport Solutions after her driver failed to turn up.

Margaret, 82, of Toothill, drove an ambulance for the old Princess Margaret Hospital between 1960 and 1985, and is having weekly appointments at Great Western Hospital after being diagnosed with meningitis and suffering a stroke.

And the week before last she had to fork out £20 for taxis to and from the hospital after the transport she booked a month in advance did not turn up.

“It all comes back to one thing, which is money,” she said. “People will always try to do things the cheapest way, but you can’t make profit out of the ambulance service.

“I am not criticising the staff out on the road, because they can only do what they are told. We had people at the top who were our bosses who knew what they were doing. They had all worked their own way up from being a tilly driver.

“We all knew our district, but the poor people on the job now are going by sat nav.

“Because of my illness I am attending six classes at the stroke unit. All hospital appointments are important, but often they can be emotional, and you want to make sure everything is going to work.

“I have had absolutely fantastic care in GWH, and could not fault it in any way. It is the subsidiary people like Arriva who are undermining the good work of the hospital.

“On Thursday I had an appointment at 11.40am, and the transport never turned up. They ask you to book it 48 hours before. That is how it always worked. When I had that appointment come through in December I booked it straight away.

“I waited until 11am. I rang them and was waiting on the phone until 11.25am trying to speak to someone. In the end I gave up and ordered a taxi, who really got me out of a hole. The taxi journey was £8.60, but I left the driver £10, because he was brilliant and could not have been kinder. He took me in and made sure I was in the right place.

“When it came to coming back I waited until 2.30pm before ordering another taxi to take me home.

“The next week they picked us up alright but forgot to bring us back, so they had to get a driver in as an emergency when it was his day off.

“When he found us he called out one lady’s name, and I asked when we would be getting picked up. This very nice man said he had been looking all over the hospital for us.

“Somebody needs to look very hard at this contract. We always used the same driver to pick patients up and bring them home. We each had our own areas, and the people who lived there knew that if they had an appointment it would be Mrs Exton picking them up. If those patients had an incapacity you would have to know how to handle them. I got to know some of them very well indeed.

“They say this is progress, but to me it is going backwards.”

Ed Potter, head of south west at Arriva Transport Solutions, said: “We are sorry to hear about the delays Mrs Exton experienced on Thursday 9th January.

“Since the start of the contract we have experienced higher volumes of patient journeys than was expected and to address this we have increased the number of ambulances serving the area by 25 per cent. “We have also placed managers at key hospital sites and addressed our internal processes for planning and the way we work with our subcontractors, which again has seen further improvements for our patients.

“Whilst we recognise there is still work to do to ensure the operation is embedded effectively, our staff are being incredibly proactive to help us manage the volume of activity we are seeing.”