Uniting Care Transport Team founders Winifred Playford, left, and Shirley Smith.
Uniting Care Transport Team founders Winifred Playford, left, and Shirley Smith. Mia Armitage

SICK JOKE: No funding for elderly patient transport program

MORE and more sick and elderly Casino residents need help getting to the doctor, with demand for a volunteer transport service in the town increasing by more than 6000%.

But there is no funding for this vital program.

MORE: The volunteers helping our sick and elderly

Uniting Care Transport Team chairman Russell Playford said volunteers did more than 500 car trips from Casino in November last year and almost 5000 in the financial year 2015-16.

What's driving demand?

He said a lot of elderly residents in Casino did not have private transport once their grown children left town to seek work, and health challenges prevented them from driving.

"We started about 17 years ago ... three ladies from the Uniting Church in Casino found that elderly people in the community were having difficulty getting to the doctor," Mr Playford said.

"There is a government scheme but some people don't tick enough boxes (to qualify).

"We took 77 people in our first year ... now we have about 50 volunteers (and) in 2015-16 we did 4967 trips."

'May as well be in Timbuktu'

Mr Playford said nearly half of the patients transported in November last year needed to use a dialysis machine at Lismore Base Hospital at least three days a week.

"They've spent millions on a new machine in Lismore - which is great - but if you can't get to it, it may as well be in Timbuktu," he said.

Twenty-one of the medical trips in November were to doctors in Tugun on the Gold Coast or as far as Brisbane.

Public transport options in Casino were irregular, Mr Playford said, and a four to five-hour bus service to Brisbane was unsuitable for passengers when they were elderly, let alone sick.

"The opening of the cancer unit at Lismore has made a huge difference. We used to have to go to Tugun for lengthy treatments," he said.

Behind the wheel

Volunteers were generally retirees or people who received government assistance while looking for a job.

"Some people who haven't worked for years ... after volunteering for a year or so can have something on their CV to say they can get out of bed and do something," Mr Playford said.

"It makes them feel good to feel they're doing something useful.

"We pay volunteers a mileage but next year we'll need to employ someone to run the show."

Money, money, money ...

The group relied on donations from passengers, third parties and community fundraising events to continue its service. Richmond Valley Council also approved a grant of $3800 in December.

Every little bit counted, Mr Playford said, but when calculating the cost of petrol per kilometre travelled, allowing for a common donation of $25 per return trip to Lismore, the council grant was likely to cover less than two weeks of services.

The service's volunteers have applied for government and church funding.

Anyone interested in volunteering was invited to call 02 6662 7940 and to ask for Janelle or Sandra.

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