A VOLUNTEER centre said it urgently needs more drivers as the service has reached crisis point after cuts to NHS patient transport.

Hambleton Community Action is calling for volunteer drivers in the Northallerton and Bedale areas to help meet the increasing demand of requests for help with transport to hospital appointments.

With the announcement last year of cuts to NHS Patient Transport, Northallerton-based charity Hambleton Community Action said it has seen a massive spike in demand for their services.

As a result, the charity is looking to recruit more volunteer drivers so it can continue to meet demand. The scheme offers alternative subsidised transport for people who are unable to access public transport in Northallerton, Bedale and surrounding villages.

Hambleton Community Action chief officer, Liz Lockey, said “There has been a massive increase in demand for community transport to hospital appointments in this area.

"Without the volunteer drivers we would not be able to offer this vital service to the local community.

"Volunteers decide how much of their free time they wish to give and are reimbursed at a rate of 45p per mile for the cost for each journey.”

Kathryn Watts from the charity added: "It has been a slow build of people needing us, and the type of trip has changed too.

"We used to do lots of regular trips for people to social groups, but now we are mostly taking patients to appointments in James Cook University Hospital, the Friarage Hospital, and to the doctor.

"We have fantastic volunteers but they all have days they are not available so we need a bigger pool to be able to call upon.

"We have got to the point where we have had to turn people away, which is very upsetting to us.

"We do prioritise urgent hospital or doctor visits over social events, but we have even had to disappoint people in need of hospital transport.

"They then need to get a taxi if they don't have someone else they can call upon, which can be a costly trip."

The service currently has around 30 volunteers but needs at least 10 to 15 more in order to meet demand.

It takes about 50 calls a week from patients needing a lift into hospital.

The Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group introduced measures in 2018 to reduce the number of people receiving the free non-emergency transport as part of a drive to address a £3m deficit.

To find out more about the Community Car Scheme, contact Claire Barnbrook on 01609-780458 or carscheme@hambletoncommunityaction.org.