• York Rotary

Physionet - 15,000 wheelchairs and counting...

On March 11th our very own Russ Rollings gave us an update on what Physionet is all about. Although York Rotary have supported this charity for many years, newer members might have not been fully aware of what the organisation does.

Rotarian Peter Thompson, who now lives near Boroughbridge, used to be in the agricultural business and travelled widely.

On visits to Fiji he noticed the effects of diabetes precipitated by the sugar plantation industry. Sufferers lost limbs though the disease, and there was very little rehabilitation available. On retiring, he set up Physionet in 2005 with the aim of sending redundant medical equipment, especially wheelchairs and walking aids, to Fiji. A wheelchair would give someone the independence they needed.

The business model of Physionet is very simple – gather redundant or written off medical equipment from hospitals, Care homes, etc. in UK; refurbish as required; through contacts such as Rotary clubs abroad, identify countries where such equipment would be of use and send it to them.

Physionet is supported by several Rotary clubs in Yorkshire, and Physionet operates from a huge barn near Green Hammerton at Gelsthorpe Farm on the A59. Satellite Physionet centres have also now been set up in the south east, south west and Scotland.

Physionet is supported by various patrons, plus many Rotary clubs and has no paid employees. With their trusty old vans, equipment is collected and brought to collection hubs, with most equipment then coming to Gelsthorpe Farm. Volunteers gather every Monday (and occasionally on other days) to refurbish and repair, and then loading sessions are held every few weeks to pack 40ft containers to send abroad. The recipient organisations are responsible for funding shipping and any import duties and onward transportation once the container has reached the home port.

With a colourful and energetic PowerPoint pace, Russ showed us round the Gelsthorpe Farm barn and described countries so far supported with some 115 container loads now despatched totalling over 15000 wheelchairs despatched plus many thousand other items such as Zimmer frames, walking aids, paediatric equipment, specialist beds and much else….in fact anything which doesn’t need a 24 hour electricity supply and which fits in a Ford Transit van! 24 hour power is obviously not guaranteed in many areas where equipment is sent.

Although not a ‘sales’ talk, Russ appealed for members to help with collections (if you’re under 80 and can drive and are reasonably fit), with refurbishment tasks (if you know how a spanner works and can use a hammer) and with container loading on Saturdays every four to six weeks (again, needing to be reasonably fit).

As seen with recent events, the demand for all sorts of equipment in third-world and war-torn countries continues to grow. Physionet hopes that it can continue to do such work wherever aid is needed.

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