Vital dial-a-lift service cut will hit pensioners

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Funding cuts to the Out and About Community Transport services are now hitting the elderly and disabled in the pocket.

Hundreds in the Cookstown and Magherafelt areas rely on the dial-a-lift service to keep doctor and hospital appointments.

The manager of Out and About Community Transport in Magherafelt, Ashley Keane, said they were struggling to keep the service operating.

Over the past five years they have seen their funding from the Department of Infrastructure drop by around 48 per cent - from £250,000 per annum to £146,000.

Ms Keane said they had lost four drivers due to DRD licensing requirements and are finding it difficult to recruit and keep volunteer car drivers who are essential to maintaining the pick-up at the door service.

She admitted they had been left with no choice but to charge their members more for this particular service which is in most demand.

One pensioner, who is receiving cancer treatment, told the Mail that he estimated it would cost him £600 in travelling to complete his treatment.

“The cost went from £13 per trip to £30,” he said. “It’s a lot of money for a pensioner to find just to enable them to continue essential treatment.

“The Out and About Service is brilliant and I couldn’t do without it, but it needs urgent funding and it needs it now.”

Ms Keane said of their 870 members, not all of whom are active after paying their £12 membership fee, 85 per cent of the journeys are to health related appointments. “We are actually providing a vital service to the Health Service by ensuring people keep their appointments, yet we receive no funding from the Health Service,” she explained.

Ms Keane added the problem they have is that demand has outstripped the service tenfold.

Anyone wishing to volunteer as a car driver in Magherafelt, Draperstown and Bellaghy should call 028 79300123.