Volunteers are now active within all 3 A&E departments of Hywel Dda University Health Board, spending time with patients as they wait for medical attention.
The Volunteering for Health programme of Hywel Dda University Health Board has been developed with a view to improving patient experience and overall wellbeing. Although most volunteers are placed on the wards, it was felt that volunteers’ presence could make a big of difference also to patients in A and E, during what can sometimes be a lengthy wait of several hours.
The idea was piloted first of all in one of the four acute hospitals where a nurse manager, with support from senior staff, was keen to give it a try.
A and E departments are busy places where things happen at fast pace and staff are under constant pressure. Juliet, who volunteers in A and E, said ‘the doctors and nurses are busy; I go in with a smile on my face’. In their yellow polo shirts, volunteers are easily recognisable to patients and staff alike. ‘I make tea, and chat with patients’ said Juliet ‘I take prescriptions to the pharmacy, and fetch sandwiches from the fridge for patients who have missed mealtimes. I keep a check on cubicle supplies of wipes and so on and top them up from the stock room if necessary.’ Volunteers are an important liaison between patients and staff, seeking professional attention or information when a patient needs it.
The impact of volunteering
Evaluation of the Volunteering for Health programme by the University of Glamorgan in 2013 highlighted the perceived impact of volunteering on staff, patients and on volunteers themselves.
Volunteers overall has a positive effect on patient and visitor experience. Many respondents to that evaluation felt that volunteers ‘freed staff time for clinical care’. In relation to A and E volunteering, however, Juliet commented ‘I don’t really feel that I relieve the pressure from nurses but they certainly appreciate that I have time to talk to patients. A nurse will sometimes wait until a patient has finished talking to me before they begin their intervention’.
David Fretwell, Volunteer Manager added ‘It is so nice for patients to have a friendly face. Informal conversations with volunteers can be a great reassurance.’ He added ‘Volunteers find a sense of purpose through their involvement. For some it brings them valuable insights for their future career’.
‘It takes a certain kind of volunteer to thrive in A and E” said David ‘We need volunteers who can think on their feet and are not afraid to take initiative. It takes time to find the right people; it isn’t for everyone. It is better not to recruit a volunteer to this role than to recruit the ‘wrong’ person’.
In developing the role and assessing risks it was vital to have key staff, volunteers and unions involved from the outset. This involves ‘leg work’ in consulting with different stakeholder groups at a range of meetings. The support of senior management is needed in order to ensure the engagement of operational staff.
Messages about what volunteers can and cannot do need to be communicated repeatedly and in different ways. Having the information available in a folder on the ward is not sufficient. A poster giving a tick list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts is being developed. It is important for all to recognise what are the agreed tasks that volunteers can and cannot do.
‘Volunteers are sometimes frustrated that they cannot do more, when they see practical tasks that need doing’ said David Fretwell ‘We have to remind them of the importance of social interaction with patients and their families – which is very much appreciated and mustn’t be undervalued.’
By way of further improvement, David plans to develop induction training which is tailored more closely to the A and E role, including for example, some A and E roles play scenarios and involving existing volunteers in delivering the session.
David offered some words of advice ‘anyone who is developing volunteering in A and E should go and do it themselves first. It can save a lot of trouble and helps to get things right from the start’.
For more information on the Volunteering in Health service see
Helpforce Cymru 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 services.