This Volunteers’ Week we’re celebrating the amazing people who help save and enhance lives every day, by giving their time to support St John Scotland projects up and down the country.
David Thomson is one such volunteer. David is one of a team of 23 drivers in Dumfries and Galloway who help provide a lifeline service for people undergoing treatment for cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating. For someone living in Dumfries or the surrounding areas, on top of coming to terms with this life-changing diagnosis, they must also plan how to access their treatment.
With the nearest treatments centres for some types of chemotherapy – and all types of radiotherapy – in Glasgow or Edinburgh, it means a round trip of at least four hours to attend each appointment.
For those without access to their own transport, or supportive friends or family to give regular lifts, the trip is even more difficult. Getting to hospital by public transport can mean several changes of buses and trains, early starts and late returns, or is simply not possible. Often, patients have to stay overnight after their treatment.
Volunteers from St John Scotland set up a Patient Transport service in the area 20 years ago, and since then have helped thousands of people get to their life-saving treatments, and home again on the same day.
David has volunteered as a Patient Transport driver for the past 15 years. A retired town planner, David was for a time volunteer driver for Carnsalloch Cheshire care home near Dumfries before getting involved with St John Scotland.
A typical day sees David and his fellow drivers pick up patients from Dumfries, or more rural areas as far afield as Newton Stewart, and make the 80 mile journey to Glasgow or Edinburgh. The drivers then wait for the patient to finish their treatment before bringing them back home again.
Spending time with people attending regular appointments means the volunteer drivers often build up a bond with their passengers.
David says it can be challenging seeing someone you’ve come to know well, going through treatment for a serious condition: “Over the years I’ve met many brave people. Every journey is different, and you quickly learn whether someone wants to talk, or be left to their own thoughts.
“Some are happy to discuss their condition, and it is truly humbling to witness people’s strength and resilience in the face of what they’re dealing with.”
As well as providing vital practical support, David finds it rewarding to help in other ways: “Occasionally, when people have been struggling with the side-effects of chemo or radiotherapy, I’ve been able to pass on tips from passengers who have shared things that they’ve found have helped.”
As a volunteer, David says he gets great satisfaction from helping people: “Knowing that you’ve been able to make a difference to people going through one of the most difficult things they may have to face, can be a hugely rewarding experience.”
St John Scotland volunteers run similar Patient Transport services in four areas of Scotland, with teams in Angus and Dundee, and Perth and Kinross taking patients to cancer and dialysis treatments, while a service for dialysis patients launched last year in Fife.
There is always a high demand for the service provided by the volunteer drivers, and David is keen to encourage people who want to get involved to apply: “If you enjoy driving and helping others, then this is the volunteering job for you.
“When you get a heartfelt ‘thank you’ from someone when you’ve managed to get them as close as possible to the treatment centre, or back home, you know that that small thing has made their life that bit easier. That’s a great reward.”