Care to Drive is an Irish Cancer Society scheme that alleviates much of the stress and discomfort associated with travelling to hospital for treatment.
For cancer patients in County Donegal, travelling by public transport to hospitals as far away as Dublin or Galway has always added to their difficulties. Arriving in time for appointments often means leaving home in the early hours or staying overnight.
And after a long day that is both emotionally and physically draining, the last thing a person wants to do is rush across an unfamiliar city to catch a bus, and then spend four or five hours travelling home.
Even attending hospital within the county is difficult, with public transport often not available for the appointment times.
In response to concerns expressed to the Irish Cancer Society about similar issues nationwide, the Care to Drive scheme was established.
Scheme manager Olwyn Ryan told the Democrat: “Donegal has been included in the scheme since last October. We have 26 drivers in the county, taking patients mainly to Letterkenny General Hospital at the moment. We really want to get the message out that this scheme is available to people in the North West, so that they can get the benefits of it.
“Like anything new, it takes a while for people to become aware of it, and to trust it. Nationally, we have had fantastic feedback, with hospital staff and patients all saying they are delighted with the service.
“We particularly try to work in regions where transport has been identified as a problem. Many people do not have a family member living nearby to help them get to appointments. In other cases, it is really hard for people to take time off work on a regular basis to take a loved one to hospital.
“It’s especially important coming home after the treatment to be comfortable enough to ask a driver to stop if you feel sick or need fresh air, as many people do. This is so much easier in a car than on a bus.”
The scheme is only possible because of the goodwill of voluntary drivers who collect patients from their homes and take them directly to the hospital.
Patients on the scheme notify the Irish Cancer Society of their appointments. A driver will then contact the patient to introduce themselves, get directions and confirm pick-up times.The same driver collects the patient after the treatment and brings them home.
Ms Ryan said: “The feedback we get is that is has made a huge difference. People using the service have reported a significant reduction in stress because of not having to worry about how they will get to hospital, and how they will get home afterwards if appointments are running late.
“The drivers are really positive too. They love being able to offer such practical help to patients.”
The Irish Cancer Society wishes to reassure patients that all participating drivers are Garda vetted, and their references are checked thoroughly.
Anyone wanting to find out more about the scheme can speak to a nurse at their treatment hospital or visit the Irish Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.ie Information on volunteering is also available on the website.