FOR many patients at Sobell House, their freedom to drive was lost alongside their diagnosis.

Too ill to get behind the wheel of a car, most have been deemed by their doctors as unfit to roam the roads.

But still they file through the day centre doors: some thanks to the hospice's minibus, but others because of volunteers who give up their own car seats to transport Oxfordshire's terminally ill.

The service sees them sacrifice time to pick up passengers, easing them from their front doors and transporting them to Sobell's.

Stuart Shepherd, who has been volunteering with the drivers' service for almost six years said: "You mix with people who have had entirely different way of life to you - professors, for example - and they all love going here. People enjoy it because of the way they are treated.

"Some people don't realise what good they do here. They think if you are going into Sobell then you are going to die, but that's not the truth. I'll still be picking up some of them up a year later.

"The patients are very positive-thinking. I've never met anyone who has turned around and said they didn't like it."

The Temple Cowley resident said he wanted something productive to do after retiring from a nursing home, adding: "It gets me out of the house and you meet some really nice people."

The 74-year-old laughs along with the receptionist and a passing nursing assistant as I tentatively check his age, as his fellow driving volunteer Dave Box yells "lies, you're at least 80" to his friend.

Mr Box, a few years his junior at 71, added: "We all have a bit of banter, and the patients will give it to you back."

The Launton resident has been driving for Sobell for more than 16 years, following a long career of lorry and coach driving, from which he had to retire after being diagnosed with a chronic heart muscle disease called cardiomyopathy.

He said: "My doctor was working a couple of days at Sobell and said 'why don't you go there to get you out?' I spent a day shadowing one of the drivers and that was that.

"I just enjoy it. When you hear somebody you know has passed away it does hit you for a little while, but I still love doing it."

He said the remedy was to "have a bit of fun" with the patients, adding: "If I stopped having a laugh with them they'd say 'what's wrong?' We are not supposed to but when you've been bringing them in for years you can't help but get friendly."

Without him and the many others who volunteer for the driving service, the day centre would be a much emptier place.