Wakatipu health shuttle could face axe

St John Wakatipu health shuttle drivers (from left) Rod Sullivan, Evan Paterson, Claudia Faichney...
St John Wakatipu health shuttle drivers (from left) Rod Sullivan, Evan Paterson, Claudia Faichney, John Stephens, Kussy Gomez and Dave McNay, with area executive officer Jessica Patch and booking co-ordinator Maxine Murdoch, stand outside the ambulance station in Frankton when the service was launched in late November. Photo by James Beech.
The St John Wakatipu health shuttle is at risk of being axed, just six months after it was launched, if more people do not use it to attend their medical appointments in Invercargill.

The fourth shuttle to hit the road in the South Island, it was in demand before Christmas, its 12 seats all booked on two days.

However, passenger numbers had dwindled since summer and the shuttle made only two trips a week, taking three or four passengers from Wakatipu pick-up points to Invercargill Hospital or other health providers in the city.

St John Wakatipu area executive officer Jessica Patch said the organisation was doubling efforts to raise awareness of the service. One of the 26 first aid-trained volunteer drivers on roster had been tasked with approaching community groups to spread the word.

''We need to emphasise it's for everyone and it's not just for appointments at Southland Hospital,'' Miss Patch said.

''We can take people of all ages to anything health-related, as long as they have an appointment. People can take a support person.''

Residents and visitors who were physically unable to drive, or would rather not drive themselves, were encouraged to call St John free on 0800-000-606 to book a journey, from Monday to Friday, Miss Patch said.

The shuttle would run, even if there was only one passenger.

The shuttle departs from the corner of Ramshaw Lane and Wiltshire St, Arrowtown, at 7.30am.

It leaves from the Queenstown Ice Arena, Queenstown Gardens, at 8am, and from the St John Wakatipu ambulance station, in Frankton, at 8.15am.

All three stops are near plenty of free long-term parking.

People have a four-hour window to complete their appointments in Invercargill. The shuttle leaves the hospital at 3pm and picks up passengers elsewhere in the city, if needed.

Patients discharged from hospital were welcome to use the shuttle to get home or make a travel connection in Wakatipu, Miss Patch said.

A ticket from Queenstown to Invercargill on a commercial bus can cost up to $50.

The sum of $30 was suggested for a return trip on the shuttle, but St John would not turn away someone who could not afford it, Miss Patch said.

The service cost $20,000 to set up, with the help of sponsorship, and was expected to cost $15,000 a year in fuel and other overheads, including volunteer training.

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