St John Scotland's dedicated volunteers, who help patients from across Angus and Dundee get to hospital for cancer treatment and dialysis, have celebrated ten years of providing the lifeline service.
The volunteers give up their own time to drive patients from all over Angus, Dundee, and parts of Perth and Kinross, to access treatments at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and Arbroath Infirmary.
For the patients, it’s a lifeline service which means they don’t have to worry about negotiating public transport, or relying on friends and family for lifts to and from their regular appointments. For some patients who experience debilitating side effects from their treatment, it means they can travel in comfort, and have the reassurance of a familiar friendly face on the regular journeys.
The service was set up by a group of St John Scotland volunteers in 2008. Knowing that many cancer patients struggled to get to their regular treatments, meaning they often missed appointments, they took it upon themselves to set up a voluntary service to make life easier for people going through a tough time of their lives.
Following talks with the then-Chair of NHS Tayside, it was decided that St John Scotland volunteers would begin offering transport to oncology patients, at first using their own cars to make the journeys.
The reputation of the scheme soon spread, and in its second year, St John Scotland received a legacy from a local resident who had been moved by the volunteers’ work to help others. This allowed them to purchase a dedicated Ford Galaxy people carrier, while a donation from a trust the following year enabled the purchase of a second vehicle.
In 2013, the volunteers were asked to provide transport for dialysis patients from across Angus and Dundee to regular treatments at Arbroath Infirmary and additional appointments at Ninewells. Knowing the struggles that patients would face – with dialysis requiring three treatments per week, each taking several hours at a time – the volunteers were keen to help out.
The current team of some 21 volunteer drivers are on the road six days a week, all through the year, completing more than 150 patient transport journeys every month. Last year alone, they covered a staggering 83,000 miles – the same as driving from Dundee to Moscow and back 18 times! It’s estimated that since the service began 10 years ago, the volunteers have driven more than 700,000 miles, and given up countless hours of their own time to assist hundreds of local patients.
It’s a service which the local patients say they are lucky to have. 81 year old Sandra Penman from Carnoustie was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2010, and has had dialysis treatment three times a week since – first at Ninewells and latterly at the Renal Unit in Arbroath. Her treatments, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, take four hours each time. She said: “The drivers from St John Scotland have been taking me to dialysis in Arbroath for two years. The same drivers pick me up each week, and we have a good chat in the car on the way to Arbroath, and they are always very nice and helpful. We’re very fortunate to have this service in Angus, they always go out of their way to help if there are any difficulties with transport arrangements for the patients.”
Some drivers have volunteered with the service for almost its whole ten year history. One such dedicated public servant is Bill Harvey from Wellbank, just outside Dundee, who was one of the first to join up in 2008 and volunteered for nine years before retiring last summer having travelled more than 83,000 miles. He said: “It’s the most valuable experience I have ever had. I first signed up as a driver when my wife, Mary, was going through treatment for cancer and I saw a leaflet about the service at the GP. I knew from what she was going through, how difficult the travelling was – she was having radiotherapy five days a week for six weeks, and although the treatment itself was short, doing so much travelling was hard. The first patient I picked up was terrified of starting her own treatment, but I was able to share what my wife had been through, and reassure her about what it was like – she took great comfort from that.”
Bill says he got more out of being a volunteer with the service than he put in – and he put in an awful lot over his nine years! He said: “At one point, I was taking patients to hospital six days a week, but mostly I did two or three days a week. Once we started offering transport to people for dialysis, a typical day would start at 6.30am to pick up patients and take them in for their treatment starting at 7.30. Then I would go home and do the same in reverse in the afternoon to bring them home again. I loved being a volunteer, you would get to know the folk you were driving regularly and have a good chat with them. They really appreciated having a familiar face and friendly chat to make the journeys pass easier.”
The St John Scotland Patient Transport team celebrated their tenth anniversary in style this week, marking the occasion at Dundee’s City Chambers where they were joined by the Lord Provost of Dundee, Ian Borthwick.
As well as providing the Patient Transport Service, in Angus and Dundee St John Scotland supports teams of volunteer First Responders, who provide a vital service by responding to life-threatening incidents in support of the Scottish Ambulance Service in their local area. Local St John Scotland volunteers are also actively involved in providing Public Access Defibrillators in the community, and delivering CPR training to various groups.
St John Scotland’s Executive Director, Angus Loudon, congratulated the Patient Transport volunteers on their achievement, saying: “The dedicated team in Angus and Dundee is a shining example of the inspiring things that can be achieved by volunteers. We’re incredibly proud that this group of St John Scotland volunteers make such a difference in their community, selflessly giving up their own time to provide a lifeline for local patients. They go out of their way to make life easier for people who are facing tough treatments, whether in the short term for cancer, or longer term for dialysis.
He continued: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the drivers, past and present, as well as the co-ordinators and those behind the scenes who put in so much time and effort to make sure the service runs smoothly for patients, and have done for the past ten years. We look forward to continuing this essential service into the future.”
Malcolm Wright, Chief Executive of NHS Tayside said, "Congratulations to the St John Scotland volunteers on reaching this fantastic milestone. I'd like to thank the team on behalf of the many patients in Tayside who rely on their help to transport them to and from vital appointments. We are very grateful for the service they deliver which makes the lives of patients and their families easier during challenging times."