A FREE shuttle bus service between the town centre and Weston Park Hospital is set to begin - dependent on volunteer drivers coming forward - to help Barnsley cancer patients to and from their appointments.
The service will enable patients from Barnsley - who make up around 20 per cent of total patients at Weston Park - to travel to the hospital without public transport or parking costs and worries.
Replicating the shuttle service, which has run between Weston Park and Chesterfield for years, the Barnsley service is the second initiative by the charity to support patients with transport to appointments.
The team have proposed to use Oakwell Stadium’s car park as the pick-up and drop-off point, which is hoped to be officially confirmed by Barnsley Football Club board members over the next week.
Darren Hayes, marketing manager for Weston Park, said: “We’ve always been planning to pull this service in - Covid slowed us down but now we’re on the final push. It is very much needed and we hope it helps the whole spectrum of people in Barnsley, from teenagers who can’t drive to elderly people who struggle to catch multiple buses and a train to get here.
“What we want to do is take the stress of travelling away from patients who are already going through the stress of treatment - that is bad enough, but to contend with the stress of public transport and parking difficulties makes it even harder for patients.”
The Sheffield-based cancer centre also converted some office space into a patients’ waiting room, to give somewhere comfortable for people to grab a coffee and wait for buses and appointments.
Matt Hadley, transport coordinator for Weston Park, is a key organiser of the new Barnsley bus scheme.
“It’s so expensive for people who rely on public transport, and if patients are lucky enough to drive or have someone give them a lift, it’s sometimes impossible to park at the hospital,” he said.
“For patients having radiotherapy - which is a really common treatment here - this can mean visits every day for 20 to 30 consecutive days for patients.
“This is a really difficult trip to make for some people, especially when they are already unwell.
“All we need now is some volunteer drivers, then this new initiative is happening.”
The Chesterfield service has been running successfully for years under another provider, and was taken over by the Weston Park team in April this year - who expect the Barnsley service to be just as popular.
“The demand is definitely there - so we want to make sure that we’re here to support these people,” Matt added.
“Really we hope it benefits people who don’t have access to a car, and people who would rather not pay for taxis and public transport - anyone who faces difficulties reaching us really.
“If you catch our bus - admittedly, you will be together with other people inside the vehicle - but you will all have had a Covid-19 test in advance of any appointments, so really it should be safer than public transport.
“All of our drivers are lateral-flow tested before they drive a shift, too.”
Anyone who would like to enquire about the upcoming service, as a volunteer driver or service user, can contact Matt on 0114 553 3330 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.