Local volunteers team up with local businesses to provide shelter and transport for cancer patients

A Sunderland based charity has partnered with local businesses to provide free accommodation and transport for cancer patients receiving treatment at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

The Sunderland Prostate Oncology Group (SPOG) which offers advice and support to men who are diagnosed with penile and prostate cancer, is working with housing association Gentoo and Station Taxis to solve some of the difficulties patients face finding short-term accommodation before and after treatment.

The ‘Home from Home’ scheme is a result of the work SPOG is completing with City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Urology Unit to give help and support to prostate and penile cancer suffers, after it was found that many patients found it difficult when travelling from as far as Yorkshire to undergo treatment.

Following discussions with staff from the Urology Unit, SPOG volunteers Tony Kinnair (Chairman), Alan Wright (Secretary) and committee members Billy Jemma and George Goldsmith met with Gentoo and developed the idea of utilising some guest rooms at their sheltered accommodation units.

Gentoo who owns and manages more than 29,000 homes in Sunderland is providing a ‘Home from Home’ at two of its sheltered housing schemes, which can be used by a cancer patient and/or their companion. They offer an overnight stay for a maximum of two nights so the patient can stay before admission to hospital and the night they’re discharged, if needed. The self-contained apartments are fully equipped to make the stay as comfortable as possible and are close to Sunderland Royal Hospital to help reduce transportation time.

“At Gentoo we believe in putting people first so when we got the opportunity to work with SPOG volunteers, our local hospital and Station Taxis we saw a way to help make a difference. We recognised that together, we could help in making the fight against prostate and penile cancer just a little easier. SPOG make such a difference in our community and this is a great example of how working in partnership can the improve quality of people’s lives.”

Lucy Malarkey, Deputy Director at Gentoo

Station Taxis are also offering free return travel for the patient and their companion from the apartment to the hospital, with the cost being subsidised by Station Taxis and SPOG to ensure the transport remains completely free for the patient.

Trevor Hines, Managing Director from Station Taxis said: “Some patients have to travel a long distance for this treatment and don’t know the area very well, so transport should be the least of their worries. It is great to work together with SPOG Volunteers, Gentoo and our local hospital to provide this service to make patients and their families feel supported through what is a very difficult time for them.

“Our industry is predominantly made up of male taxi drivers, so we also feel it is important to support this cause and generate awareness of prostate and penile cancer amongst our own drivers and staff.”

Volunteer, Tony Kinnair, SPOG welcomed the first patient to use the service and expressed his gratitude: “I can’t put into words how grateful I am to Gentoo and Station Taxis for helping us to make this happen. For patients going through such a difficult time this scheme will support them by helping to make them as comfortable as possible. We understand the anxieties that patients can have when coping with a cancer diagnosis and I can’t thank Gentoo, Station Taxis and our other supporters enough. This is a great example of the voluntary, housing and private sector working together to make a difference. ”

Mr Ben Jenkins, Clinical Director of Urological Services at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, added: “This ground-breaking scheme is one of a kind, with City Hospitals Sunderland being the only Trust in the country offering this service to their patients. It allows for people who are not local to the area to have advanced investigations as an outpatient the day before surgery. This includes sentinel node identification which can improve their clinical outcome and reduce the side effects of treatment.”

The service offered by SPOG is independently funded and relies on volunteers and donations. They have recently secured £5,796 from the Big Lottery Fund which will be used to ensure they can continue to offer support and counselling, as well as complementary therapies to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of sufferers. They rely on the generosity of local community groups and have recently received £2800 from The Chester’s – a local pub in Sunderland.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men in the UK, with more than 47,000 men diagnosed every year – that’s 129 men every day. 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.

For more information about SPOG and the work they do contact Alan Wright on 07957832796 or email alanwright@btconnect.com