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Thanks a million John

Newbury resident John Salter aged 73 years has covered more than 1 million miles as a volunteer ambulance car driver for the local ambulance service since 1986.

John Salter had worked for the Southern Electricity Board (SEB) for 30 years before taking early retirement on ill health grounds in 1985 after open heart surgery. On his doctor's advice John started walking an hour a day to aid his recovery. On one of those walks John met with a former colleague from SEB who had retired at normal age and had become a volunteer car driver for the ambulance service.

John called in to the headquarters of the then Berkshire Ambulance Service in Bracknell and said that he had the time and a car, liked driving and could fill the role of a volunteer ambulance car driver. The person who interviewed him asked John if he would mind going to the London hospitals and told him that , if his application was successful, he would receive a mileage allowance and information about who he would be taking from where to which hospital outpatients department over the telephone. John got a call a week later inviting him to start on 20 January 1986.

John has now worked as a volunteer ambulance car driver for 27 years, met all sorts of people, seen and enjoyed parts of the country he wouldn't otherwise have been to and covered 1,115,754 miles taking patients to and from their outpatient appointments.

John recalls a few memorable highlights from his long career as a volunteer, such as the time he took a female amputee from Newbury to the Artificial Limb Centre in Oxford. On returning from the hospital John walked the lady to her door on sticks and only discovered he'd left her leg in his boot when he went shopping later that day. He immediately drove her leg back to her gushing his apologies. She replied 'that's ok I've got another one.'

John recalls another patient who left their glass eye in his car, an old lady he regularly took for dialysis that used to spot the names on Eddie Stobart lorries and the country of origin on foreign number plates - she was on dialysis and a controlled diet but loved jellied eels and pickled onions!

John's advice to anyone considering becoming a volunteer ambulance car driver:

'It's important that you enjoy driving, meeting people and talking with them and that you are punctual.  Sometimes you can be out early in the morning and back home late at night, but it's a good feeling to know that you have helped someone and that they appreciate your help.'  

John is not only appreciated by the patients he transports, but by NHS clinicians such as a Paediatric Specialist Radiographer at Churchill Hospital, Oxford who wrote to John saying:

'I would like to let you know that the clinicians and radiographers in Radiotherapy really appreciate your help with this child. It is important that she had early morning appointments, and you managed her here, on time, for all of them. You must have really put yourself out to achieve this, so thank you so much for providing such an excellent service.'

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust's Non-Emergency Patient Transport Service (PTS) employs 64 Contact Centre staff based at Bicester in Oxfordshire and at Otterbourne in Hampshire. This is in addition to 343 operational PTS staff across the four counties of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire. The trust also has 127 registered volunteer ambulance car drivers across the South Central Region.

Doug Sinclair, Patient Transport Services, South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said:

'Between 1 April and 31 December 2012 the trust's Non-Emergency Patient Transport Service undertook 318,029 patient journeys.

'Our volunteer ambulance car drivers carry out an extremely important role  supporting the trust within our non-emergency Patient Transport Service by taking patients to and from hospital for outpatients appointments.

'All our volunteer drivers receive a mileage allowance for the work they do and normally spend most of their time working in their local area. John is a fine example of how our volunteer car drivers help us to care for our patients in the communities they live in.'

Any driver who may be interested in becoming a volunteer ambulance car driver is invited to telephone 02380 246173 or to email

Published 28 January 2013

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