This is the third in a series of short interviews with volunteers to gain their perspectives on volunteering in the time of COVID-19. We thank all of those who took the time to chat with us about their experience with volunteering in 2020.
Margaret Richardson has been a volunteer driver for the Irish Cancer Society in Sligo, and in Dublin, for the past 9 years. She is one of more than 1200 drivers who collect people going for oncology treatment. The service links drivers and service users to attend appointments at more than 23 hospitals nationwide.
What has been the biggest change in your role since COVID-19 was detected in Ireland?
The most drastic change has been a greatly reduced demand for drives in Sligo. In fact, I have not driven for the Cancer Society since early March. I imagine that family members are now more available to help out and are doing some of the drives because their work patterns have changed. However, like cancer treatment, the service has carried on!
In what ways has the Irish Cancer Society Volunteer Drivers’ programme adjusted? What measures have been taken to facilitate the changes?
Guidelines have been drawn up to address the precautions we must take to alleviate concerns about cross-infection and sanitation. For example, we ensure that our cars are very clean before and after drives, drivers and passengers don facemasks, and passengers sit in the back seat. These measures help reduce COVID- 19 risks for this vulnerable population.
Also, now, companions are not allowed to accompany those going for treatment.
As expected some drivers are in high-risk groups and have been cocooning themselves so there was a drop in the number of drivers available on a national level. But as I understand now there is a bank of volunteer drivers at the ready to pitch in now. There are still plenty of drivers to meet demand.
Do you have any advice for service users?
The service is up and running and all precautions are being taken to keep people safe. Drivers will not take risks and if one is feeling unwell, others are on reserve to pitch in. If you, or someone you know, would like help getting to or from your oncology appointments please ask your cancer care nurses for further information.
Can you offer words of advice for anyone considering or new to a volunteer role like this one right now?
Don’t be discouraged if there is low uptake right now. Sligo covers a huge catchment area and the number of drives may not be great right now but you will be needed when things settle down a bit more. Unfortunately, new service users will arise too.
This role is so rewarding. Every client has been so appreciative of the volunteer driver service. Please spread the word: this service is available. There is no need to struggle to get to cancer treatment appointments. The chat and chance to meet people is invaluable too. I thoroughly enjoy the company for the day!
Organisation overview: The Irish Cancer Society (https://www.cancer.ie/) is the national charity in the Republic of Ireland dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem, and improving the lives of those who have cancer. For over 55 years the Irish Cancer Society’s community of survivors, families, patients, friends, nurses, doctors, scientists, professionals, supporters and volunteers has worked together for and on behalf of people affected by cancer.