Barts Health NHS Trust is planning to use Uber taxis to transport non-emergency patients, including the elderly and those with cancer and dementia, to and from hospital facilities in an attempt to reduce bed-blocking and delayed discharges.

The London-based NHS health trust – the largest in the UK – said that a new app would allow patients and carers to coordinate care, schedule trips to appointments, and keep patients’ relatives informed.

Cera, the social care startup behind the initiative explained that the UberAssist and UberWav services would be used to provide access for disabled passengers and wheelchair users.

Alongside the ride-hailing option, patients and carers will be able to use the app to find other forms of transport and select the most efficient routes.

According to Dr Ben Maruthappu, a former doctor and Cera co-founder, the technology would allow a radical integration of care and transport. ‘Older people and those with disabilities will now have access to the highest-quality drivers, while carers will be able to efficiently travel to ensure they can provide services in the right place at the right time,’ he said.

Maruthappu argued that partnerships like these would help to tackle the major challenges in the NHS – ‘cracking down on bed-blocking and delayed discharges, while providing high-quality and efficient care.’

Alongside the five hospitals that form the Barts Trust, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Harrow, Brent and Hillingdon will also have access to the Cera system. It is estimated that the north London scheme will cover a population of five million people.

‘Social care and the NHS are in such a state of crisis that any initiative to ease the pressure will be welcomed by patients and staff,’ commented the Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis. ‘But the funding chasm between what is needed and the pitiful amount councils currently have to commission care is too deep. Nothing short of an emergency injection of cash in the budget, followed by the sustained and realistic funding of health and care will be enough.’

Cera already offers an on-demand service which guarantees a carer to attend to a patient at home or at a hospital within four hours in some areas of the UK.

The care startup has just closed a £1.3 million seed funding round – one of the largest in European healthcare history. The firm is backed by top investors including David Buttress, CEO of JustEat, former chairman of Lazard and UBS banks Ken Costa, and global head of digital at McKinsey & Company, Paul Willmott.