Volunteer drivers urgently needed to help cancer patients access vital hospital treatment

British Red Cross open day to be held on Monday 29 October for potential volunteers to learn more about the service

The British Red Cross are in desperate need of more volunteer drivers to take cancer patients to hospital so they can receive potentially life-saving treatment.

The charity is holding an open day at St George’s Church, Fons George, Taunton on Monday 29 October for people to learn more about the service and how they can help.

Bob Bonnett

The Red Cross has a contract with Somerset Clinical Commission Group to transport people from their homes in Somerset to Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital or the Bristol Royal Infirmary for their cancer treatment. Unfortunately, a lack of volunteer drivers has left the charity struggling to help everyone in need of support.

Sophie Walker, who manages the Oncology Transport service at the Red Cross in Somerset, said: “On average, we transport about 20 people each day. Some of those people need to receive their treatment in hospital every day or else it could be life-threatening. On occasions, we have had to ask our emergency response volunteers to make those journeys when we’ve had no other option.

“We are making an urgent appeal for more volunteer drivers to join our team. We’d love to hear from anyone who has their own car, has a few hours to spare each week, and is willing to drive someone to their hospital appointments in either Taunton or Bristol. We will provide full training and support and all expenses and mileage will be paid for.”

Bob Bonnett, 81 from Castle Cary, has been volunteering for the service for five years. He was inspired to volunteer his time after he received support from the Red Cross to get to his own hospital appointments by volunteer drivers.

Bob said: “I was in and out of hospital for seven weeks for radiotherapy treatment. On the first week I drove myself, but another patient told me I’d get very tired and to arrange transport through the Red Cross. That was the first time I had heard of the service.

“Over the seven weeks I met a number of different drivers who I’d chat away with on the journey into Taunton. I was pleased to see them when they turned up as it meant I could relax and not have to worry about getting to the hospital or getting home or anything of that nature. It was very good service.”

Bob signed up as a volunteer for the service once he’d recovered from his illness. He now drives other service users into hospital three days a week outside his job of repairing antique clocks.

“It’s a very satisfying role. I feel I’m doing my bit for society. If it wasn’t for the Red Cross volunteers some of these people who need treatment would find it very difficult to get to their appointments. By driving them I feel I’m achieving something for the patient, for the NHS and for society. It’s a very satisfying job to do. It’s nice to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

“I’d definitely encourage other people to volunteer. The support you get from the office staff is very good and you’ll be working with a team of people who really want to help people as best we can.”

Volunteers are also needed in Somerset to help people who have recently returned home from a stay in hospital. The Red Cross Support at Home service introduces volunteers to people who may need extra support making the adjustment back to home life while they recover. The Red Cross volunteer will visit for up to six weeks and offer companionship, advice and practical help, depending on individual needs.

To sign up as a volunteer driver with the Oncology Transport Service, or as an independent living volunteer in Somerset, please email [email protected] or call Ella Coates in 07860 402300 for more information.

The open event to learn more about the service will be held from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Monday 29 October at St George’s Church, Wilton, Fons George, Taunton, TA1 3JT.

Alternatively, please search for volunteering opportunities in Somerset online at www.redcross.org.uk/volunteer