A free service ferrying Wairarapa people to and from appointments is potentially saving the health system tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Through Wairarapa Community Transport Services more than 2000 patient appointments are attended on an annual basis. Many of the appointments are at Wellington, Hutt and Kenepuru Hospitals, and wouldn’t be possible were it not for the free transport service.

Funding from Trust House initiated the establishment of the service, set up as an incorporated society in 2004.

A substantial grant from Trust House and several other community trusts, enabled the purchase of two new vehicles. Every two years since, additional grants have been awarded to help fund replacement vehicles. A recent grant of $15,000 from the Trust House Foundation brings Trust House’s total funding for the initiative to around $150,000.

Wairarapa DHB, Compass Health (PHO) and Greater Wellington Regional Council also contribute to the service.

A former elected member of the Masterton Community Trust (previously known as the Masterton Licensing Trust) for more than three decades, Rick Long, was instrumental to setting up the Wairarapa Community Transport Services.

“I was getting overwhelming complaints from people not being able to get to appointments and what could the Trust do about it,” Mr Long says.

It was “a stroke of luck” that when the society was set up [New Zealand] Red Cross jumped on board and opted to run it and provide volunteer drivers, Mr Long says.

NZ Red Cross Masterton service centre administrator Sandy Grantham says a lack of transport can be a barrier for people getting to appointments.

“It is a huge cost for them to get to an appointment, even for local appointments if it means having to take a taxi,” she says.

Feedback from health service providers is that the free transport service has led to a big increase in returned appointments for people attending clinics, she says.

“Not being able to go to the doctor or attend a clinic could result in a person getting sicker and having to be admitted to hospital,” Sandy says.

As well as outside the Wairarapa, the community transport service also covers local appointments to the doctor, hospital outpatient clinics, medical specialists or medical centres.

In addition to external funding, the service also relies on a dedicated team of volunteer drivers. All drivers are trained in first aid and provide assistance to and from the vehicle. There are currently seven drivers in Wairarapa.

A volunteer driver for 12-years, Richard Whitley says he sometimes makes up to three trips “over to Wellington” a week with passengers heading to multiple sites.

“It can be quite busy, but people are always grateful,” Richard says.

While he enjoys chatting to passengers, he always knows that he has done a good job of driving them when they are “fast asleep” on the return journey.

To access the service call the Masterton Red Cross service centre on (06)377-3586. To ensure a vehicle and driver are available, it’s best to book as soon as you get your appointment.

Red Cross Masterton service centre administrator Sandy Grantham with volunteer drivers Richard Whitley, Lorraine Baker and John Needham.

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