Here’s why we love our hospital volunteers

They offer so much support – for patients as well as nurses, says Admiral Nurse Anna Chadwick

They offer so much support – for patients as well as nurses, says Admiral Nurse Anna Chadwick

Picture: iStock

A King’s Fund report published earlier this month revealed the views of NHS front-line staff about hospital volunteers.

Almost 300 hospital staff in England, including nurses, doctors and support staff, were questioned. The report suggested strong support among front-line staff for volunteers, with 90% believing volunteers add a lot of value for patients and 74% saying they add value for staff.

One third said volunteers provide essential reassurance and company for patients, and almost one in three felt volunteers freed up time to focus on clinical care. A large majority of the nurses questioned – 82% – said they enjoyed working with volunteers.  

Wide-ranging support

At Leighton Hospital in Crewe, we have had volunteers supporting older patients, many living with dementia, for more than four years. We have eight Royal Voluntary Service volunteers offering a befriending service between 10am and 4pm each day, and have the support of more than 300 volunteers across different wards and departments.

‘Nursing teams miss volunteers’ presence when they are not there’

The volunteers support staff by engaging patients in activities, including reading, discussing the news headlines and completing puzzles. They are someone for patients to sit and talk to without being disturbed.  

More recently, some volunteers have undertaken additional training to assist with supporting people at meals times. They are also being trained how to use Reminiscence Interactive Therapy Activity (RITA), an innovative digital therapy system used primarily for older patients with cognitive impairment, such as dementia.

The interaction between staff and volunteers is excellent. Volunteers will make themselves known to staff as they come in and enquire if any patients in particular require support that day.

The impact of volunteers is immeasurable. The hospital environment can be overwhelming for patients, and a friendly face and a chat can make the world of difference. For our busy nursing staff, having volunteers to provide additional support can relieve pressure and lighten the mood of the ward.

The support that volunteers offer in our hospital is greatly valued by all involved. While our nursing team focus on both the clinical and emotional aspects of patient care, the one-to-one input from volunteers enhances this, furthering improving care and outcomes.

No substitute for nursing staff

However, it is important to remember that volunteers in no way replace nursing staff, and we ensure roles are clearly defined to avoid any confusion. Over the years, the volunteers have become an integral part of the ward team, helping to support thousands of patients. Nursing teams miss their presence when they are not there.

Family members who have met volunteers have given positive feedback about the difference their input has made. But most important is the difference volunteers make to patients in our care – they really help to boost patients' mood and provide reassurance and company at what can be a very anxious time.

Volunteers undoubtedly improve the experience of those who come into contact with them. We hope that, as volunteer numbers increase, more projects can be explored to improve care and outcomes.

Anna Chadwick is an Admiral Nurse and dementia lead at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


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