HEALTH bosses hope a £230,000 free bus service will prove just the ticket for patients, visitors and hospital staff.

The service was due to be launched today and will link the county's hospitals in Worcester, Kidderminster, and Redditch.

A voucher scheme will operate on the EasyLink buses, supplementing existing services running between the county's acute hospitals.

Patients, visitors, and hospital staff will travel free at all times provided they produce an NHS travel voucher to the driver.

The new scheme, which includes three new 52-seater buses and a shuttle service, will operate from 6.15am to 9.30pm and take to the road on Monday, September 3, to coincide with the changes to hospital services.

Patients attending pre-assessment clinics needing public transport will be given the appropriate number of vouchers.

These will also be issued with appointment letters and will be available from ward clerks at WRI, or the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch.

Most of the buses will have easy access for disabled, elderly, and children in pushchairs.

"We're investing £230,000 this year, to subsidise the new bus service to ensure that good quality public transport links are provided between the five hospital sites," said Jacqui Cravos, chairman of Worcestershire Health Authority.

"Our concern has not only been to provide a comprehensive service, which accommodates visiting and appointment times, but one which takes into account shift patterns so that hospital staff can get to and from work."

Worcestershire county councillor Colin Beardwood said the partnership between health and transport providers showed how large organisations could benefit people without cars and those in rural areas.

The service includes an extended and improved hourly 303 service running from Kidderminster Bus Station via Ombersley to the WRI sites at Castle Street, Ronkswood and Newtown.

In addition, there is a new hourly service running direct from Kidderminster Hospital via the bus stations at Kidderminster and Bromsgrove to the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch.

For users of both of the services, the last two buses back to Kidderminster will drop passengers on request at any defined stop in the Wyre Forest Shuttlecard area.