A mum contemplating hitchhiking to Whakatāne to reach health services and elderly residents missing out on specialist hospital appointments due to lack of access to transport.
These are just some of the situations a new free health shuttle for the people of Kawerau will help address.
The St John service is supported by local volunteer drivers and launched on Tuesday at the St John Kawerau ambulance station. It's for those facing barriers getting to their health appointments locally or at hospitals in Tauranga, Whakatāne and Rotorua.
Kawerau and Districts Ageing in Place (KADAP) team leader Karen Stanton said the need for transport to medical appointments had "grown considerably" over the past year.
Volunteers would carry out roughly 15-20 return trips to and from medical appointments for members.
"I am absolutely shocked at the amount of people that do not go to appointments because they cannot get there. It is just common," she said.
It was "heartbreaking" when people missed out on specialist hospital services they had been waiting months to attend.
"They cannot drive and don't have anyone in town to ask for help.
"It will make a massive difference for people and for us it will take a lot of pressure off," she said about the health shuttle."
The charitable trust provided a range of services to members aged 55 and up including grocery shopping, home and garden maintenance and pet care.
Kawerau Pharmacy owner Jay Girn, who described the service as a "great initiative", said there were a lot of community members experiencing financial struggles who did not have access to transport.
Only last week Girn gave a Kawerau mum petrol money so she could organise transport to a health service in Whakatāne over the weekend.
He said the individual was contemplating hitchhiking and was struggling to find childcare while she was away.
"They were caught in between the system. You know how important it is for them to make it, but they are facing all these barriers.
"It saved an awkward situation. A mother shouldn't have to do that."
The woman ended up giving petrol money to her friend who took her to the appointment.
He praised the bus service but said those who relied on public transport on off-days sometimes faced difficulty.
'It's not ideal if you have appointments on other days of the week."
Tarawera Medical Centre practice manager Christine Yeoman said the health shuttle would "certainly benefit" their patients who did not have access to their own vehicles.
St John deputy community health services chief executive Sarah Manley said St John worked alongside the community to assess the need and bring the service to the district.
"This service was established by the community for the community of Kawerau," she said.
"We heard from local and regional health providers who have helped us to understand the issues in terms of transport for patients and whānau to maintain and manage their health needs."
A priority for the service would be a supportive, stress-free, and straightforward
transport option to hospitals in the region as well to local health providers, she said.
And it was part of the service's work to generate more equitable health outcomes in the communities.
The St John Kawerau Health Shuttle service was established with grant funding from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Kawerau Training and Education Trust, and a gift from the whānau of the late Tracey Neilsen who was a dedicated St John member.
Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell said the shuttles would be of "tremendous" value for the area.
Nine volunteers had come forward to train as volunteer drivers and the town is the 54th location for the service first launched in 1991 in Hamilton and Feilding.
There are two vehicles and the service is available for anyone who needs transport to
and from health-related appointments in the area and hospitals in the region.
While a donation or koha was appreciated, it was free for those unable to pay.
Bookings can be made by calling 0800 824 325 at least 24 hours ahead of the scheduled appointment.
There were two bus routes in Kawerau including the 135 bus route connecting residents to Whakatāne and Route 135a which provided a town loop. Both services ran on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council transport and urban planning manager James Llewellyn
said the council was not aware of any complaints about accessing medical appointments via bus.
Llewellyn said Route 135 connected with route 143 (a and b) which travels between Whakatāne and Tauranga. This provided a link to Te Puke, Bayfair, Tauranga CBD, Tauranga Hospital and Greerton four days a week.
The Eastern Bay community would be consulted by council later this year about improving all current bus services in the area.
Bay of Plenty DHB regional community services business leader Karen Smith said
access to hospital outpatient appointments and other planned care could be difficult for some rural populations.
Smith "looked forward" to the health shuttle providing greater access to DHB services for the Kawerau community.
The Lakes District Health Board was approached for comment.