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Finchley Memorial Hospital Shuttle


Barnet Community Transport’s CEO Richard Healy gives a personal view and update on the options, and pitfalls, involved in the proposed Finchley Memorial Hospital Shuttle.

Given recent publicity about the concerns raised about transport provision to/from Finchley Memorial Hospital (FMH) it may be helpful to précis the background, and illustrate the options for consideration.

The northbound Transport for London (TfL) route 263 bus stop is over 400m from the main entrance of the new building which poses severe difficulties for those with mobility impairments attending FMH. Unlike the old building, the new one is tucked away in the furthest corner of the site and the foot and cycle path follows the hilly contours of the landscaping which results in many people walking along the shortest route in the roadway with their backs to vehicles.

Re-routing the 263, or any other current TfL route is not practical for the following reasons:

Therefore it is the position of BCT, as outlined from the outset, that asking Tfl to route the 263 into FMH is a non-starter and always has been, so in essence the wrong question is being asked of TfL and no matter how many times it is asked the answer cannot change.

It is worth noting some of the other options being proposed:

I hold all the above to be self-evident and restate it for anyone who is not up to speed as to what is needed to achieve a sustainable solution. There is a huge jigsaw to be completed to make this work properly, so at present we must be content with making small steps in embracing all interested parties and stakeholders towards a common aim.

BCT Proposal

If asked the correct questions in the correct way, TfL could agree to BCT operating a scheduled “900” shuttle route using Tucana accessible minibuses during clinic hours. A great deal of positive groundwork has been done at all levels at TfL to make this option a practical reality using a London Service Permit for Section 22 operations. Minimal capital investment would be required as BCT can use existing vehicles. If a free service similar to that which already exists to bring patients, staff and visitors from the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) to Barnet General Hospital (BGH) and from BGH to Chase Farm Hospital (CFH) is provided then no modifications for ticketing, FreedomPass and Oyster card processing are required.

The cost of purchasing and fitting fares / cashless payment recording equipment would outweigh any revenue generated so overall it is more cost effective to provide a free to use service along with the pre-existing shuttles.

Let us be clear, if it was thought that this service was profitable, then a commercial company with private shareholders would have been running it long ago. Therefore it has to be funded in such a way as to be free at the point of delivery in order to maintain compliance with current requirement for Section 19 Permit Minibus operations.

Paradoxically, the provision of transport linking several bus stops with FMH will create more demand as the Clinics and GP surgeries that are waiting to relocate to fill the empty spaces at FMH will trigger an increase in demand for transport and reduce costs in several ways. We cannot precisely quantify this demand in advance but logic and experience show that local transport solutions bring both tangible and intangible benefits to the community.

Currently the underused/unused “empty” areas of the hospital still carry a large cost to the operators of FMH, (some estimates put this figure at over £100k pa), by contributing funding to underwrite free transport provision, not only will this amount be reduced by shrinking the amount of empty or underused space, but also by gaining significant rental income from GP’s who were originally due to move in to FMH during October 2012 as well as other Clinic hirers.

The London Borough of Barnet (LBB), Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group ( CCG)/ Finchley Memorial Hospital Management, Central London Clinical Healthcare Trust (CLCH),  Royal Free Hospital Trust, NHS England, and whichever property company is managing the site, as stakeholders who have sufficient funding to support the BCT service infrastructure and running costs could combine budgets to finance this shuttle in a similar manner to the existing free shuttles.

Unfortunately the cycle of foostering – (def. creating the illusion of progress when actually hindering any concrete movement forward) carries on due to continuing demands that 263 stop at FMH despite the overwhelming weight of evidence why that cannot happen. There appears to be a somewhat puzzling agenda at work when the minibus alternative was offered by BCT, that the only response is another survey. If there were enough people to merit a 70 seat double deck 263 being diverted, it seems incongruous that there would not be sufficient demand for a 14 seat minibus. Unfortunately, the survey will be restricted to those who attend the GP’s surgery when they relocate to FMH, and as no date is in sight for that move, this delay has the feel of any constructive decision being kicked far, far away into the long grass.

In Conclusion:

It is disappointing, to say the least, that the only prospect on the horizon within the borough is to have yet another survey. If there are enough passengers to require a 263 double decker to divert to the hospital, then surely there will be enough passengers to require a BCT minibus as a more cost effective solution. 

If the only way forward is to have another survey, then surely the most pertinent question to be asked is: Has a survey ever resulted in the re-routing of a TfL main bus route? BCT doesn’t have the luxury of looking at transport provision in the borough through a telescope. We, as a charity, have at our heart the needs of the wider community and so take a strategic, creative and innovative view on behalf of the residents. Each person that uses FMH is one less that needs to go to Barnet General thus spreading the load and easing the pressure on NHS vital facilities.

Let us be clear, unless more tangible, fully funded steps are undertaken along the lines of existing services to other Royal Free Hospital Trust sites, then reaching a workable solution to the lack of transport provision serving FMH will move no closer in the next three years than it has in the previous three.

Richard Healy

CEO, Barnet Community Transport

February 2015