North West Ambulance service (NWAS) is seeking more volunteer car drivers across the region to help transport patients to routine hospital appointments.
Every day, volunteers across Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside drive patients to routine appointments, to support the NWAS Patient Transport Service.
The ambulance service describes each volunteer as a ‘star in a car’ and has launched a new campaign to recruit more stars, and their wheels.
Publicity material across a range of media features a number of current volunteers explaining why they became drivers and how the service benefits patients, families, the NHS and volunteer-drivers themselves. Many drivers say volunteering helps them to build their own self-confidence and skills through training in computers, first-aid and safeguarding.
Volunteer driving is flexible, rewarding and scheduled around people’s lives. Many volunteers say they enjoy keeping busy while doing something meaningful. No previous experience is required, and full training is provided by NWAS. Volunteers use their own car and are reimbursed for travel costs.
Drivers can volunteer for just a few hours a week or for longer. Some drive within the North West region while others transport patients on longer journeys to and from hospitals in other parts of the UK.
Overall NWAS says 1.5 million patients in the North West use its patient transport service every year. All patients have a medical need for transport, but 600,000 of them are able to be transported by volunteer drivers without any need to be lifted. However only 250,000 of these patients are currently being transported by volunteer drivers.
NWAS wants to expand the number of volunteer drivers to help transport the remaining 350,000 patients to and from hospital appointments, to help provide a more responsive service to patients with additional needs.
Volunteer drivers come from a wide range of rural and urban communities. At present, NWAS has 311 active drivers who, on average, provide transport for two patients in their spare time on a day of volunteering.
There are some fascinating facts highlighting the work by volunteer drivers. Their combined service currently comes to a total of 150,000 volunteer-hours worked per year. That is equal to 6,250 days or just over 17 years of volunteer-time. Overall, they cover a lot of ground too. They currently drive a combined total distance of 5,892,446 miles per year. That equates to travelling 236 times around the world or making 12 return-trips to the moon.
The new ‘star in a car’ campaign includes social media, videos, leaflets, posters, car air-fresheners and outdoor banners.
Volunteers have been explaining why they drive as part of the recruitment campaign.
Nigel Pinchen, 36, from Lancashire, said: “I’ve volunteered since 2017. I became a volunteer because my dad used the service as patient. I see volunteering as a way of repaying the ambulance service for helping him.
“I love volunteer driving. It gives me a great sense of well-being and I really feel appreciated by patients and ambulance staff. The flexibility is great, so I can continue to work as a professional darts player.”
Ian Stringer, Head of Patient Transport Service at NWAS said: “There are many reasons why people become volunteer drivers; they typically enjoy driving, helping people and want to give something back to the community. Whatever your reason for becoming a volunteer driver, you’ll find it extremely rewarding.
“We will give you all the training you need, and help you with any paperwork or processes linked to becoming an ambulance service volunteer. As a volunteer driver, you’ll step into people’s lives for one-off or regular appointments. During that time, you’ll make a huge difference to them and the NHS.
“We encourage applications from drivers of all ages, from all communities and cultures.”
To join the NWAS team of volunteer drivers, go to nwas.nhs.uk/get-involved/volunteering/car-driver or call 0345 112 0 999 to talk about volunteering.