More than 10,000 older people in Dumfries and Galloway get out of their homes less than once per month. This is one frightening conclusion from a survey of more than 1000 older people carried out recently in the region by a team of volunteers who are campaigning to improve the provision of transport in rural areas.
The survey found that, for older people, travel to and from hospital or clinic appointments is often difficult, time-consuming and stressful. It is almost impossible to attend these appointments using public transport outside the main centres in Dumfries and Galloway.
It also revealed that older people are forced to rely on their own transport or the goodwill of others. Journeys arranged by NHS patient transport are often stressful, at inconvenient times or arranged in an inflexible manner.
In addition, it can take a whole day to attend a half-hour appointment and more than one-third of appointments before 10am involve more than one hour’s travel. Also, families and carers are often excluded from travel arranged by NHS patient transport. Escorts were excluded from more than one-fifth of such journeys.
The survey indicated that transport is vital for the wellbeing of older people, with more than one-third of the sample unable to do their own shopping; two-thirds of those who can do their own shopping live more than a mile from shops, and nearly 10% live more than 10 miles from shops; in excess of 40% of older people have difficulty in getting out, and nearly half of these find it almost impossible to get out; and a quarter of older people don’t get out every month.
Extrapolating these figures across the whole of Dumfries and Galloway, where there are approximately 45,000 people over the age of 60, implies that 15,000 older people are unable to do their own shopping, 3000 older people live more than 10 miles from shops, 18,000 older people have difficulty getting out and more than 10,000 older people get out less frequently than once per month.
In March 2011, a small team of volunteers got together under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament’s Community Partnerships Project to campaign to improve the provision of rural transport in Dumfries and Galloway for older people and their carers and so maintain and improve their health and wellbeing. They are seeking to influence the Scottish government and local authorities by making them aware of the transport issues faced by older people and by presenting compelling arguments for changing practices in Dumfries and Galloway.
MSPs from the region have taken up the cause and will debate the issue in the Scottish Parliament. The volunteers have submitted a petition to
the parliament. Representations are also being made to councils and their memebers to make sure that this issue is addressed urgently. Following some excellent progress in Wigtownshire with a pilot project to tackle flexible transport provision, the group is exploring joint working with Rural Transport Solutions within D&G Council.
The study has highlighted the lack of coordination and provision of transport for older people in remote and rural areas of Dumfries and Galloway. The volunteers are calling upon the various bodies locally and nationally who control and influence this topic to work together to address these clear failings. Good practices are evident in some districts in Scotland, for example in Wigtownshire and in Buchan, and these should be adopted nationally.