Clevedon Care is a charity which has been actively serving the local community for some thirty-four years. Their main aim is to help people to get to and from medical appointments by car. They take clients to local surgeries, clinics, opticians, dentists as well as hospitals and clinics further afield, including Bristol, Bath and Weston super Mare. As is common with many of the Clevedon volunteer-driven organisations Clevedon Care is struggling to recruit more volunteers, in this instance drivers, who they badly need in order to fulfil all of the requests they receive.
It is an organisation that is well respected within the community and is well used – between January and March of this year, they booked 614 journeys; between April to June it had risen to 672 and between July and September it had risen again to 768. There is a definite upward trend which is hardly surprising given the rise in the cost of living, the cost of petrol and a fractured bus service.
With thirty-eight drivers on their books during this time and a couple in the pipeline, awaiting DBS checks and references, you would think they had sufficient numbers but it is still not enough to cope with the current demand and it is with a very heavy heart that such a caring organisation have occasionally had to turn people away.
I was interested in the data related to the provision of NHS non-emergency transport services so I could see the extent of the problem that Clevedon Care is helping to address. I was out of luck! A review into this very issue Improving NHS Non-Emergency Patient Transport Services (NEPTS) published by NHS England in August 2021 highlighted a lack of transparent and consistent data on activity, performance, and costs to the extent that information on NHS (NEPTS) activity and performance is not available nationally, regionally, and in many cases locally. Data is currently being submitted..
The findings of the report recommend three major objectives for an improved system, notably that it be more consistently responsive, fair and sustainable and whilst it acknowledges the difficulty of a one size fits all approach it does call for a new national framework for non-emergency patient transport.
The report states that one of the core components needs to be updated, national guidance on eligibility. At the moment, the system is there primarily for those whose medical condition means they cannot use other forms of transport without it being detrimental to their health; those whose mobility means that they would be unable to access healthcare by any other means; those who need the skills or support of patient transport staff before, on, or after the journey.
The criteria look straightforward but it’s a stretch service fraught with problems and the report describes it as a system with too many examples of ‘patients being expected to conform to the transport system rather than the system being designed around patients, and some instances of transport being poor quality.’ The exact antithesis of Clevedon Care which operates a patient-led service.
I spoke to a number of people who were using the NHS transport service, as opposed to Clevedon Care, and whilst incredibly grateful and very understanding of it being an underfunded, understaffed system, they described experiences that were far from satisfactory.
Many told a tale of being picked up hours before their appointment and left waiting for hours afterwards, by themselves, until they were picked up for their return journey. The stress of the appointment combined with a very long day and anxiety related to the journey is the sad reality for many people.
Some spoke of their disappointment at discovering that the person who picked them up was not the person who came to collect them, which may not sound significant but how much better would it be, when you are feeling particularly vulnerable, to see the friendly face that took you to the appointment coming to collect you?
Others spoke of the stress of having to face medical appointments by themselves because unfortunately if you are lucky enough to be able to access the service you can only have someone with you in exceptional circumstances. However, there may well be other patients with you because it is a multi-user service which can also be stressful. After a long day at the hospital, you just want to get back home to familiar surroundings as fast as possible, rather than sharing the journey with others in varying degrees of distress.
But what about those who don’t match the criteria for access to the service; those who don’t have a car; those who can no longer drive; those who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of a taxi to get to public transport; those who are eligible but cannot overcome the barriers that go with the service?
This is where Clevedon Care can support. They offer a reliable and trusted service which supports patients’ health and well-being and dilutes the stress of medical appointments rather than exacerbating it.
They are also very much appreciated. Here is a selection of the comments that I found on social media or were sent in a message:
“Hi just wanted to say a big thank you for taking care of my husband on Thursday, Chris picked him up on time and looked after him when he brought him home so a big thank you to him too. You provide an amazing service to the people of Clevedon”
“I don’t know what Clevedon would do without Clevedon Care. They are wonderful, excellent, full marks.”
“I only wish the area where my mum lived had a similar service when she needed to attend hospital and dental appointments in Weston and Bristol. I wasn’t always available when I was working full time, so she ended up having to arrange taxis”
“I have used Clevedon Care for many years, their service is fantastic.”
“The drivers are always friendly and polite. A great service”
So how does it work? Their team of volunteer drivers pick up clients from their homes, in the BS21 postcode area, and using their own cars they drive them to their medical appointments. After the appointment is over the same driver takes the client back to their home again. For this service, the client is charged a minimal cost which is based on the mileage for the job and the driver keeps this donation. Sometimes clients give drivers tips which are then passed on to the organisation to help with running costs.
All the drivers are DBS checked before they take any passengers. On recruitment, drivers can state when they wish to be available and also what they are willing and able to take in terms of wheelchairs and walkers or not as the case may be.
Clients book the service by ringing the office which is manned by volunteer Duty Officers who match up journey requests with driver availability.
It’s a system that runs smoothly and it’s not just the clients who benefit from it. A common thread amongst the volunteers was the idea of making a difference, having a positive impact and feeling more connected to the community. Some mentioned making connections with the people they were helping and making friendships with other volunteers.
“I applied to be a Clevedon Care Driver as I thought my car was just sitting outside when I could be helping people with their medical appointments. I soon found that I was really enjoying meeting Clevedon people and enjoying their company on the way to their appointments”
“I enjoy driving, have always valued the NHS, and had some time available as a retired person so Clevedon Care was an excellent fit! A bonus has been meeting lovely folk, our clients, who really value the service Clevedon Care provide; very rewarding”
If you are interested in volunteering as a driver for Clevedon Care or you’d just like to know more, they can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can contact Shirley the driver coordinator on 07816 479600 or through Facebook.
Any other enquiries regarding booking the service, please contact the office on 01275 343677 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am -12.30pm)