St John Scotland volunteers in Dumfries & Galloway have been crowned Voluntary Group of the Year.
At the Dumfries & Galloway Life Awards, held in Dumfries on Friday night [8 November], the teams were handed the award to recognise the difference they make in their local communities.
St John Scotland’s Patient Transport service is a lifeline for people from Dumfries & Galloway who are going through treatment for cancer.
With very few treatment options available locally, most patients are faced with the daunting prospect of making regular journeys to and from the central belt for treatment. This often creates an added cause for worry, on top of what can be a devastating diagnosis.
For the past 21 years, volunteers from St John Scotland have helped alleviate this worry, by providing free transport to and from appointments.
A current team of six volunteer drivers based around Dumfries, and 15 based around Stranraer, pick patients up from their home to drive them to hospital, and return them home again once they have finished their treatment. For those coming from the Stranraer area, this can mean a 260-mile round trip, at all times of year, and in all weathers.
As well as regular journeys to the main centres at the Western General in Edinburgh and the Beatson in Glasgow, the team also help patients access specialist treatments further afield – they even helped one patient get to a heart unit in Newcastle.
For the drivers, it can mean starting the day in the early hours of the morning to make sure patients get to their treatments in time, staying for hours in Edinburgh or Glasgow for the patient to finish their treatment, before taking them home again.
For the patients, it’s a service they can rely on, which means much more than free transport. Having to make regular journeys over the course of their treatment means they build strong relationships with the drivers, who offer emotional as well as practical support.
As well as the benefits to the patients, the service provided by the volunteers alleviates the burden on the NHS of having to cover the costs of alternative transport so that patients can get to their life-saving treatments.
For those patients who wouldn’t be eligible for ambulance transport, the St John Scotland service is the difference between a comfortable, reliable journey with support from a friendly face, or having to negotiate public transport to and from hospital – a journey which could prove impossible for some.
Since the volunteers set up the service in the late 1990s, more than 4,000 patients from Dumfries & Galloway have benefited. Together, the volunteers help around 200 local patients each year, while dozens more family members and supporters (who can accompany the patient for free) are also transported.
St John Scotland CEO, Angus Loudon, said: "This award is richly deserved, and is a testament to all the hard work of these dedicated volunteers, be they organisers or drivers. They all give their time to help people in need in their local community, and this award, coming in their 21st anniversary year, celebrates all that they do to help others."