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Case study: Louise and Marina's story

Louise Munro, age 23, is a Royal Voluntary Service On Ward volunteer at Royal Lancaster Infirmary, where she spends time with 84-year-old Marina.

"Being in hospital isn’t pleasant, away from home, family and routine, and most patients do not want to be there. This is why patient experience and looking after the whole person is important. Through our On Ward service we focus on the experience of our older patients who may be in hospital for long periods of time, or who may be admitted regularly. I volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service On Ward service because I can see the difference I can make. The smiles you get when you walk into a room, or the feeling when you make a patient laugh when they’re having a bad day show you how valuable it is.

"Hospitals can be a scary place but having someone there simply to have a chat, to distract you or even make you laugh, can make all the difference. The patients are very well cared for but it is often said that for every 10 days in hospital, 10 years of muscle aging can occur in elderly patients. As volunteers we have the time to spend reminiscing, doing activities and exercises in a group with some music. Some patients have said the atmosphere on the ward shifts when there are volunteers around, and I like to think we take a little pressure from the ward staff too as they love seeing patients engaged and laughing, and often join in when they can.

"It’s not just about the patients themselves either, it’s also about the family and friends. It is easy to run out of new things to talk about with relatives you may have been visiting for months, but through reminiscence stories from long ago can stimulate new conversations – one relative had no idea how much their mother had done during the war. It is also a small weight off their minds to know people are spending time with their loved ones through the day.

"Care is not just about medical needs, it is also about the social needs of individuals. I volunteer across the six wards our service covers, five days a week, and know that our On Ward service supports the Trust to fill the gap in social and physical engagement that is needed to fulfil a quick and healthy recovery. I’m more than happy to give my time to help provide this for the patients and the community."

Louise Munro, Royal Voluntary Service volunteer

"It’s not always that nice being in hospital, when you want to be at home and with your family, but the people here are so friendly. Everyone is lovely. I like having the volunteers like Louise here – it changes the atmosphere in the hospital and helps to break up the day. I don’t do that much during the day, although I do look forward to my lunch and afternoon tea, so if they weren’t here to have a chat with, and read a book with, I’m not sure how I would spend my time. They keep us all going while we wait to go home. It takes you out of your environment, when you’re chatting to someone, or knitting, or exercising and playing a game in a group, and that’s a really good thing. It makes a big difference in lifting your mood.

"They are always here and always make you smile and laugh. They don’t expect you to make a big effort - you don’t have to put on airs or make an effort if you feel tired, you can just be who you are."

Marina, age 84

"The Royal Voluntary Service On Ward service is about improving patient care and experience, it’s not about saving money. We try to be a forward thinking Trust, and improving patient care is something we really value. We know that health and wellbeing in Morecambe Bay is not just about patients’ medical needs – and our aim is to make our patients’ stay at hospital less stressful, less anxiety provoking, and less lonely.

"Many of our patients don’t have visitors during their stay, especially those who are elderly and suffering from dementia, and we recognised that many were disconnected, lonely, and bored. The majority of patients were also immobile for most of the day, not moving from their chairs or beds, so we wanted to promote more gentle physical activity.

"The volunteers lead the service. They are trained in meaningful activities, and offer an engaging package of care that centres on social and physical activities to promote patient care. They understand the Trust and the patients – they know how we work, how the wards operate, what the patients like and don’t like, and even the patient’s families’ preferences. They are on the wards across the sites throughout the week and the weekend. It’s especially important that the volunteers are active on the weekends, as this is a much quieter time for the patients – especially those without visitors. There is less clinical activity, and having the volunteers there to improve the atmosphere and keep the patients’ moods up is really valued.

"It’s important to shout about the positives, and this is a service that definitely brings good news for our patients. Every penny of profit from the Royal Voluntary Service shops and cafés is invested into the supervision and guidance that is needed to train the volunteers and run the On Ward service - it’s important for people to recognise that."

Barry Rigg, The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

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