Ten years ago we listened. One of the biggest concerns for those being diagnosed with cancer in our region was how to get to our Centre’s of excellence for treatment. In 2010 Kerry Cancer Support Group put a service on the road to meet that need and 10 years later we are still meeting the needs of people not only in Kerry but in parts of Cork and Limerick too. Transport is seen as an essential part of treatment. Kerry Cancer Support Group is a community based charity and it provides a community based transport service to people accessing Cancer Treatment Centres in Kerry, Cork and Limerick. We are a registered charity in Ireland. We provide cancer support services and facilities free of charge to people affected by cancer in Kerry, West Cork and parts of Limerick. Our supported transport service has been in existence for 10 years.
From humble beginnings in we now provide practical services for our service users such as a bus services 5 days a week, bridging transport service, information service to schools and community groups and a peer companion service. We believe that “no one should face their cancer journey alone” and having transported almost 3,000 people to over 25,000 cancer related appointments we hope that we are living up to that. We help people through their journey with the help of funding from community groups, donations, sponsorship and fundraising activities. We work in partnership with the HSE, the medical profession, the Irish Cancer Society and other relevant agencies. We are independently governed and operated and are not funded by any national cancer organisations or don’t receive any statuary funding.
The demand for the transport service has been increasing each year. Transport to and from appointments benefit the patient and the family while also reducing anxiety and stress. Our service users stay in touch long after their time on the bus has finished. We like to say that they start as patients and leave as friends.
In 10 years we have purchased 4 buses – 1st 2010, 2nd 2013, 3rd 2017, 4th 2019 Limerick. The service cost €299,217 to operate in 2019.
Statistics – In the past 10 years we have:
• 1,030,498 KM travelled (that is nearly 6 times round the world!!)
• Almost 3,000 Service users transported to over 25,000 cancer related appointments
• 8 hospitals in the region covered
• We have had 5 buses and 4 jeeps
• 11 wonderful bus drivers
• 15 wonderful volunteer drivers
• Countless Volunteers
• Fundraisers – average 200 per year
• Awareness talks – average 43 per year
Blankets of Hope
We are delighted to collect and distribute blankets to our service users. They are given as part of a comfort when someone travels with us. The blankets are either crocheted or knitted and donated. Many of our service users have already benefited from the initiative and are delighted with their blankets. We have a knitting/crochet group at our centre in Tralee on Tuesday evenings made up of past users and volunteers which not only provides the beautiful blankets but also a very necessary means of contact
Who keeps the flag flying
We have a team of 8. We refer to two counsellors. We have ten volunteer drivers, twelve peer companions and thirty/forty other volunteers when needed and greatly appreciate evert minute that they are able to give to us. We also have a voluntary board to oversee everything.
We have been very lucky to have had the backing of some very recognised brands in the county in the past 10 years. Fexco there from the beginning and still with us, Kerry CoCo, Garveys, Rose Hotel, Kerry Motor Works, Bons 3yrs, Lee Strand 3yrs and Kerry Group 3yrs. Avalanche have been with us for 2 years upkeeping our online presence and keeping you up to date with news.
Who we deal with on a regular basis
Radiation Oncology Department Cork University Hospital, Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre University Hospital Limerick, Oncology Services University Hospital Kerry, Bon Secours Cork Cancer Centre, Mercy Cork, South Infirmary Cork, Cork Clinic, Urology Services Nenagh General Hospital and St Lukes Radiation Oncology Network in St James’s and Beaumont.
We have very strong links with local health centres, other cancer centres, GPs and refer when required to Mabs, St Vincent De Paul, Citizens Advice and Men’s Sheds to provide all the supports our service users need. We are closely linked with schools and colleges in the region and also have links with many women’s (Probus, ICA, Soroptimists) and men’s (Lions Club, Rotary, Men’s Sheds) groups to deliver our awareness programmes.
We are always looking for ways to improve our service and make the journey easier and we believe that no one should face that journey alone. We have met with many people over the years and while we operate the organisation with a great level of professionalism and efficiency we have shared a lot of very special moments with our service users in that we have shared their ups and downs and have had the privilege of being with them along their journey.
Costs to Patients
Table 1 outlines the cost-effectiveness of this community service: These figures are subject to change.
Research by the Irish Cancer Society found that almost eight in every 10 (79%) cancer patients had costs in relation to transport to hospital appointments. 72% paid for travel and 52% for parking. On average, these amounted to €360 and €75 respectively. The percentage with travel expenses fell with increasing patient age. There is very little financial support for transport. The following table highlights possible options and illustrates the limited financial support for transport for individuals. It also highlights a gap at a community level in statutory funding of transport needs of cancer patients.
Developing our service
The transport service and requests for transport are getting busier as time goes on. It takes a huge amount of time from the centres point of view organising and carrying out the transport service. Transport has always been Kerry Cancer Support Trust’s main focus and we are now in a position to think about developing our services. Given the changing demographics in Ireland we have many service users of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds using our services. This puts new demands on our services. The growth in the number of people living alone and the growing elderly population means that demands for the transport service by specific social groups is growing. People living on low incomes access the transport service as a cancer diagnosis brings additional costs to a person and family.
My name is Kathleen. I travelled with the Kerry Cancer Support Group’s Healthlink service to Limerick in 2018. My family were very supportive and had made themselves available to me throughout diagnosis and initial appointments but I wanted to hold on to my independence. This was very important to me. I was given the information about the service and it was recommended to me at the hospital. On foot of this I spoke to the girls at Kerry Cancer Support Group and so my journey with them began.
Through this piece I want to acknowledge how indebted to this fantastic service that I am and to emphasise how tremendously supportive that it was. The laughs and the banter to and from our treatment made the weeks pass so quickly. It never felt like we were on a trip to a hospital. The removal of the added layer of stress of getting family and friends to drive was beneficial in itself. The comradeship of being with people who were undergoing the same journey as myself was extremely supportive. Furthermore using the service meant that our appointments were tailored to fit into a special morning slot arranged by Kerry Cancer Support Group. We were all seen together and were out as quickly as possible and on the road home again. I was often home at lunch time.
Finally I have to compliment the drivers, from initial contact to the final day, they are all genuine characters. Their patience, understanding and kindness were never intrusive but always evident. We always availed of a cuppa while waiting on each other to finish treatment and the last person was never pressured or hurried no more than the first. You would be hard pressed to find people to fit the bill like them.
Finally I wish to congratulate the service on its 10 years and say that I will always be fulsome in my praise of it and the team that operate it.