Many patients can experience loneliness in hospital. Powys Teaching Health Board became aware of the extent of this and set about developing, with partners, the Red Kite volunteering scheme. But it’s not just about loneliness; volunteers can provide extra support, both to the staff and patients.
There are a number of schemes available to patients leaving the hospital including through Red Cross and through Powys befriending service, but the same support is not available to inpatients and this became a priority for development. Following many discussions it was agreed to test and implement a model to involve people (including young and older people) by giving them opportunity to experience volunteering within an inpatient area.
PAVO worked closely with colleagues in Powys Teaching Health Board to prepare the way. Relevant policies and procedures were reviewed and revised for the new project. It was agreed to lower the minimum age for volunteers from 18 to 16 years, in order to be able to offer the volunteering experience to young people. Links were made with Neath Port Talbot College and recruitment began in 2017, to run a pilot project in Llanidloes hospital.
‘We were aiming for a mix of younger and older people’ said Michiel Blees, Powys Volunteer Centre Officer, ‘but in fact 4 of our first 5 volunteers were students in Health and Social Care from NPT College Newtown site.’
The promotion and recruitment of volunteers is managed by PAVO, on behalf of the Health Board, using the volunteering-wales.net website and working with local volunteer bureaux. A meet and greet meeting is arranged with the ward Sister, who has the final say about individual applicants.
On the wards, volunteers are a friendly face, with time to do ‘all the things that nurses would love to do but haven’t got time for’ such as talking with patients, reading to them, fetching cups of tea, sitting outside, chatting and companying patients to inpatient appointments. Patients can be nervous, or frustrated when delays occur to scheduled treatments. Volunteers can be a reassuring presence.
What has been achieved?
Following a successful pilot, the project is now being rolled out to all 15 hospitals in Powys, since all were eager to take volunteers on board. Volunteers have already been established into several hospitals.
Patients have commented that young volunteers ‘bring some excitement to the ward’ and staff have warmly welcomed the initiative. At the launch of the scheme the (then) Director of Nursing, addressing the student volunteers (who intend to pursue further education courses in health and social care), said, ‘when your course has finished then get in touch because we want you back here in Wales’.
Michiel Blees, who has been promoting the scheme, has been impressed with the energy and commitment of young people he meets. ‘I go to colleges to talk with young people and I come back buzzing. They have clear ideas about what they want to do and are so focussed’.
‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to gain relevant experience to help with my career aim of becoming an adult nurse’ said one volunteer.
The Red Kite scheme aims to harness that energy to benefit patient care whilst at the same time providing valuable experience for young people as they explore career opportunities.
One volunteer changed her course from health and social care but chose to continue with volunteering (until this became incompatible with her new course). One wants a career in the police force but recognised that volunteering would give valuable insight into the hospital environment.
Challenges faced and lessons learned
Considerable time was spent engaging with staff to explain the project and to answer questions and any concerns. There was a clear message about not replacing staff but rather adding the unique contribution of volunteers to the total care that is provided. Surveys were conducted and staff were asked for their opinions about the scheme. All of this paid off, with almost universal ‘buy in’ from ward Sisters and other staff. Staff warmed to the idea of encouraging young people to return as employees in the future.
Amongst the challenges faced was a high drop out rate from volunteers, often because of the time taken for the administration of recruitment procedures. This is something that is being addressed.
Managing expectations of young volunteers is another challenge. The pilot hospital is relatively quiet and some volunteers found themselves with insufficient to do; more guidance about how to use their time might be helpful. This will be addressed by developing appropriate models of day to day support and supervision and having volunteers from different age groups and backgrounds will help.
The aim is to work on the issues identified, such as recruitment processes, to recruit volunteers from a wider range of age groups and to broaden the scope of the project to new wards and sites. There is scope to develop roles which could be attractive to students of other college courses. No one is managing the toy area of the children’s Centres, for example, which could be good experience for students on the childcare studies course.
Katrina Rowlands, Interim Director of Nursing and Midwifery said ‘The Red Kite volunteers are important members of the ward team and valued by everyone, with a key role in enhancing patient experience.’
‘This is quality volunteering at its best’ said Michiel Blees ‘We want the Red Kite scheme to be recognised for its high standards and quality’.
Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.