Volunteer scheme provides company at end of life, and food parcels for discharged people living alone

Compassionate Inverclyde project is funded by donations and local support

A nurse-led volunteer service is aiming to ensure nobody dies alone, a conference has heard.

Volunteers act as companions for people at the end of life. Picture: iStock

The Compassionate Inverclyde project is also ensuring that every person discharged from hospital and living alone is given a food parcel.

Just under 50 volunteer companions have been recruited to stay with those in their final days of life at Inverclyde Royal Hospital and Ardgowan Hospice in the west of Scotland.

The programme – No One Dies Alone (NODA) – is part of Compassionate Inverclyde, and is run by Ardgowan Hospice’s director of care Alison Bunce, who is a nurse.

Companions are found for people reaching the end of life who do not have a family, or whose family members are struggling to cope with events.

Ms Bunce outlined the project to community, district and school nurses, and health visitors, at the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland (QNIS) conference in Edinburgh yesterday.

Ms Bunce said NODA was first established in the United States by a nurse affected by the death of a patient who had asked her to stay with him but her work duties had called her away.

Inverclyde Royal is the first hospital in Scotland to adopt the programme.

‘You need a good heart’

‘You don’t need clinical knowledge, you need to be a person who has a good heart and is able to be there and be present,’ Ms Bunce said.

‘I have got lots of nurses who are companions but it’s hard on nurses because you have to sit on your hands, there is no physical, hands-on nursing.’

Ms Bunce said the project is now being extended to nursing and residential homes in the area, and she hopes it will spread to individuals’ homes, if that is where they would prefer to die.

‘We’ve supported nine people so far since December,’ she said, ‘and it’s helped the nursing staff because they have been able to get on with their job, knowing somebody is always there.’

Food parcels

Ms Bunce has used social media to get people involved and has brought the Inverclyde community together to create food parcels – known as Back Home Boxes – for people discharged from hospital who live alone. 

‘A Back Home Box contains fresh bread, long-life milk, tea, coffee and sugar, a packet of biscuits, a tin of meat, a jar of jam, a knitted blanket, a welcome home card made by one of the local children and a kindness token,’ Ms Bunce explained.

The token is inscribed with the Dalai Lama quote: ‘Be kind whenever possible, it is always possible.’

The boxes have also received support from businesses such as Tesco, Amazon and Lidl.

Ms Bunce said: ‘So far we have 41 helpers who pack the boxes and deliver them around the wards; since November we have given out 400 boxes.

‘Each month either a school, a church or another organisation will pledge to collect donations and it has been a lifesaver for people.

‘These boxes are given to anybody who lives on their own, despite diagnosis or age. If you live alone you will get a box and I have quite often been in tears when people have phoned me or reported back the difference it has made to them.’

Ms Bunce said the Compassion Inverclyde project receives no formal budget, and runs solely on donations and volunteered time.

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