End of life care: volunteers will offer company for dying patients where nurses can’t

Charity project will train volunteers to provide much-needed support in NHS hospitals

Charity project will train volunteers to provide much-needed support in NHS hospitals

A joint Marie Curie-Helpforce project will train volunteers to sit with patients at the end of life, and provide support to them and their families
Picture: iStock

Volunteers will be trained to sit with dying patients and provide the comfort staff often feel unable to due to workplace pressures, thanks to a charity initiative.

Almost three in ten patients in hospital are in their last year of life, yet many die alone on busy wards, spend long periods on their own, or have little company in hospital or at home.

The seven NHS organisations to introduce the volunteer project

Under a partnership between the charities Helpforce and Marie Curie, volunteers will be trained to offer emotional and practical support to patients at the end of life, their families and staff.

The project will be introduced at seven NHS organisations across the UK:

  • West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, England.
  • York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, England.
  • Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland.
  • NHS Borders Health Board, Scotland.
  • Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Wales.
  • Powys Teaching Health Board, Wales.
  • Hywel Dda University Health Board, Wales.

Comfort for patients at the end of life, as well as families and staff

Palliative end of life care nurse Sandra Jarvis, of Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset, said Marie Curie had offered an ‘invaluable’ volunteer companion service at her workplace since 2014. '

‘It gives our nursing staff great comfort knowing we can organise someone to come and sit with a lonely patient in their final days or hours, or to offer families a chance of respite without worrying that their relative will be alone,’ she said.

‘As nurses, we can manage pain and symptoms, but when a patient comes towards the end of their life we can’t change what’s happening and don’t always have the time to sit with them. It’s nice to be able to offer something to patients and those important to them.’

Marie Curie executive director of quality and caring services and chief nurse Julie Pearce said: ‘Bereaved families repeatedly tell us that more needs to be done to improve the experience of dying patients and their loved ones.

‘Well-trained volunteers supporting patients and families in different care settings can enhance the holistic support provided, as well as reassure staff that their patients are getting the support they need and deserve.’

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