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Hospital threatens bus drivers with possible jail

Frimley Health's High Court ban could stop cheaper Wexham Park bus fares

Report and photographs: Paul Janik
Bus passengers waiting at Wexham Park Hospital

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, the 'owner' of Slough's Wexham Park Hospital, has issued High Court threats to stop a small independent bus company taking patients, visitors and staff to and from Wexham Park Hospital.

Evidence seen by the Slough Times shows Frimley is desperately attempting to stop Redline Buses, which has operated the WP1 service between Slough Station and Wexham Park for the last 6 years and 4 months continuing their bus service whilst charging lower fares than First Buses.

The History

Redline Buses, a family-owned independent bus company based in Aylesbury, has been running the familiar WP1 bus service between Slough Station and Wexham Park Hospital for the last 6 years. It is punctual and reliable. Its buses run every 15 minutes from the hospital between 06:00 and 22:00 hours. Until Friday, 30 September, the service was subsidised by the hospital.

On 27 July the hospital cancelled Redline's contract without warning or explanation, effective from the last bus on Friday 30 September.

On the same day the hospital sent their cancellation letter to Redline, First Buses applied to the Traffic Commissioners to register a replacement service called route 14.

The Current Situation

Redline, supported by its loyal and grateful passengers, decided to continue its popular service, this time financed only by passengers fares.

Surprisingly Redline decided to offer bus pass holders, banned by the Council from using their passes before 09:30, a £1 flat fare before 09:30. Redline also decided to offer other passengers a cut price fare, about half of what expensive First Buses charge passengers.

When Frimley Health bosses discovered Redline was going to continue their bus service with cheaper fares and no hospital subsidy, they ordered external solicitors to threaten Redline with High Court injunctions to stop the independent bus company taking passengers to and from Wexham Park Hospital.

Redline director Taj Khan told the Slough Times:

Our bus service has done nothing wrong.

I can not understand why our public bus service is being attacked by hospital bosses. We are offering to all our passengers a first-class and reliable bus service, now at a cheaper and very competitive price.

Instead of thanking us, the hospital keeps threatening to put us in the High Court for taking the public to Wexham Park Hospital. It really does not make any sense.

Slough Council intervenes

Slough Council's new dynamic councillor for Transport, Cllr Fiza Matloob, has offered to help resolve the strange dispute between Frimley Health and Redline Buses. Cllr Matloob told the Slough Times:

I shall be inviting Redline Buses and Frimley Health to an arbitration meeting to attempt to resolve this matter.

In the best interests of our town, especially the patients and visitors going to Wexham Park Hospital, I will be working hard, supported by some of my cabinet colleagues, to find an amicable solution.

With positive attitudes on both sides, we will make progress.

Frimley Heath's response

The Slough Times is current awaiting a statement from Frimley Health.

This morning Frimley Health stationed security guards at the entrance to Wexham Park Hospital to intimidate WP1 bus drivers.

Update: Monday, 3 October, 17:10

Frimley Health NHS Trust have, today, been asked 4 times in writing and once orally to attend Tuesday's arbitration meeting with the bus company. Frimley have been asked to chose whatever meeting time suits them.

Disappointingly Frimley have continually refused to respond.

The Slough Times understands that behind the scenes angry criticism has been directed at Frimley's chief executive Sir Andrew Morris. This could explain the withdrawal of Wexham Park's security guards monitoring WP1 bus arrivals.

Update: Monday, 3 October, 20:15

Still no response from Frimley Health.

Frimley's increasingly strange behaviour is difficult to understand.

No one knows if Frimley Health really wants to settle the dispute without an expensive Court case or whether Frimley is prepared to spend even more hospital funds trying to get an expensive High Court injunction to stop the bus company carrying passengers to and from the hospital at lower fares.

Several hospital staff told the Slough Times of their annoyance and concerns that hospital management were trying to stop their preferred WP1 service.

It is utterly amazing a NHS hospital trust has chosen to take money away from patient care and spend it on expensive lawyers to stop an independent company, that has run the same bus service for six years without complaints, continuing with their frequent bus service to and from Wexham Park Hospital.

More bizarre is Frimley's threats of High Court action against cheaper bus fares.

This mess is not the standard of public service required and desired by the public that pay chief executive Andrew Morris' salary and generous pension contributions.

Fat-cat hospital directors should be elected by the public.

Receiving around £300,000 a year for presiding over the current deplorable scandal can not be justified. We invite Andrew Morris to resign. It will permit a better chief executive to succeed him.