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Hopper could be axed if no funding found

THE ‘Hopper’ RUH bus service is at risk of being stopped completely as the drive to save the service is running out of options ahead of Wiltshire Council’s decision.

People campaigning to save the Connect2 service, which transports patients from Melksham and around Wiltshire to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, were recently dealt a heavy blow when Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said it would not consider helping to fund the service.

Time is running out to find sponsors for the £130,000 a year service, as Wiltshire Council is expected to discuss its future at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday 19th January.

Melksham Without county councillor Terry Chivers has spearheaded the campaign alongside Trowbridge councillors Jeff and Helen Osborn.

Cllr Chivers said, “We see this as a very short sighted and most regrettable decision. If the CCG fund the Hopper, in the long term, it will save the NHS many hundreds of thousands of pounds, by getting people treated quicker.

“We are also critical of the timing of their decision.  By releasing it over the Christmas period it seems they were cynically attempting to ‘bury bad news.’

“Rest assured that the campaign to save the Hopper continues. We will meet with Wiltshire Council officers prior to the cabinet meeting to better understand the financial situation in light of the CCG’s action.

“We will be exploring other possible sources of funding. We will not go away. The RUH Hopper must be saved. People need it too much.”

The campaign to save the bus service has garnered strong public support and collected over 2,000 signatures over two petitions. The strength of feeling saved the service from an early cut and protected it until April this year, but its future from then on is unknown.

Campaigners had hoped Wiltshire CCG, a branch of the NHS, would step in to save the bus, but were told it could not afford to do so.

The NHS has not funded the Hopper since 2007. Instead it currently pays £2.3million per year for the Non Emergency Patient Transport (NEPT) service, which transports Wiltshire residents to the hospitals in Bath, Swindon and Salisbury.

In a statement published on its website the CCG said, “Whilst Wiltshire CCG regrets it is not in a position to be able to match-fund the Hopper service with Wiltshire Council, the CCG’s position has not changed since the NHS withdrew its funding in 2007.

“The CCG maintains that the Hopper service does not provide an equitable service for all Wiltshire patients, and is restricted to transporting people to the Royal United Hospital only.

“The NHS is under intense financial pressure and the CCG has no spare resource to be able to fund the Hopper service as well as the Wiltshire-wide Non Emergency Patient Transport Service, which, as well as taking people to the RUH, also transports people to Salisbury District hospital and Great Western Hospital.

“Indeed, finding the funds required for the Hopper service would require the CCG to reduce clinical services currently provided for patients.”

There is a petition still ongoing to save the service. You can sign it online by searching ‘RUH Hopper’ at www.38degrees.org.uk