SPICe FAQ – Patient Transport Services

Reading Time: 4 minutes

SPICe regularly receives enquiries relating to patient transport services for those who need support to reach healthcare appointments.

The majority of patient transport services in Scotland are provided by the Scottish Ambulance Service, however transport can also be provided by NHS Boards, local authorities, voluntary organisations and community transport services.

Using Patient Transport Services

If a patient has a medical need, or has limited mobility, the patient can request transport to and from a healthcare appointment by contacting Patient Transport Services on 0300 123 1236, or via text relay on 18001 0300 123 1236. The patient will be asked a series of questions to ascertain the level of need, and whether or not they could get there by other means, for example public transport.

 Having a hospital or clinic appointment does not mean that a patient automatically qualifies for ambulance transport. Ambulance transport is available if a patient:

  • requires assistance from skilled ambulance staff
  • has a medical condition that would prevent them from travelling to hospital by any other means
  • has a medical condition that might put the patient at risk from harm if they were to travel independently
  • is attending hospital for treatment that might have side effects and require ambulance care on the return journey.

As space in transportation is limited, patients are unable to take escorts with them, unless they have a medical need that would require treatment during the ambulance journey. A patient may travel on the ambulance with an escort or carer if:

  •  they are under 16 years old
  • they have learning difficulties
  • they require more specialist personal support from a carer due to a medical condition or a mental health condition.

Assistance dogs can travel with to and from appointments.

Patients from island communities

Patient Transport Services would generally take a patient with medical/mobility needs, who is travelling to a scheduled hospital appointment for the whole journey. However, on some smaller islands, there may be one Accident and Emergency crew and no Patient Transport Service resource. In order to maintain emergency cover on these islands, the Accident and Emergency crew will take the patient to the ferry terminal to be picked up at the other side by mainland Patient Transport Services staff. This means the patient may be unescorted during the ferry journey.

 Patient Needs Assessment

 In April 2012, the Scottish Ambulance Service introduced the Patient Needs Assessment, a tool which ensures they provide the most appropriate assistance and advice to callers requesting access to Patient Transport Services.

In December 2017 the Scottish Ambulance Service made improvements to the Patient Needs Assessment for both patients and Health Boards. This was to provide a better understanding of the patient’s needs, ensuring they get the most appropriate response.

These improvements followed a review which included feedback from both patients and staff about what changes they would like to see, to improve patient experience and in appropriately identifying patient needs. Between March and October 2017, a number of change ideas were tested, involving 300 patients.

The changes to the Patient Needs Assessment itself focussed primarily on amendments to the order of the questions asked, whilst also reducing the frequency in which Scottish Ambulance Service take a patient through a Patient Needs Assessment from 24 hours to 6 weeks. The eligibility criteria for patients requesting Patient Transport Services did not change following the review.


If a request for patient transfer has been turned down by Patient Transport Services you can contact the Scottish Ambulance Service and appeal a decision.

Alternative methods of transport

There are a number of community based initiatives that provide transport to patients and some Health and Social Care Partnerships will link with voluntary organisations or community groups to provide transport via volunteer drivers. Information on accessing these Services is often available to patients at their local GP practice.

 The British Red Cross provide patient transport services across the country and further information about accessing this service can be found on their website.

The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) operates a Community Transport service and further information about accessing this service can be found on their website.

St John Scotland provides volunteer-led Patient Transport services in Fife, Angus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross and Dumfries and Galloway. Further information can be found on their website.

Claiming back the cost of travel

If a patient travels to hospital by other forms of transport, they may be entitled to help with the cost.

The amount reimbursed will be for the cost of the cheapest form of transport available, which is usually public transport.

If public transport is unavailable or impractical, the patient will need to phone the hospital where they will be attending their appointment and ask to speak to the hospital cashier to check whether they will be able to claim back money for any new travel arrangements.

A patient may be entitled to claim travel costs if they:

  • are getting, or their partner receives one of the following benefits:
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Guarantee Pension Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • are named on a valid )
  • are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • receive a War Disablement Pension and the hospital treatment is for pensionable disablement
  • are living permanently in social work accommodation and do not pay the full rate for that accommodation.

Further information

The Scottish Ambulance Service has produced a leaflet, as well as an ‘easy read’ leaflet, about travelling to hospital for an appointment if you cannot use other transport.

Finally, the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) provides free advice and support to patients, their carers and families in their dealings with the NHS. More information can be found on their website


Emma Robinson, SPICe Enquiries Manager