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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Hospital volunteers have never been so important

Last Friday, I made my first visit to the Royal Voluntary Service Cymru shop at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr – a new hospital, only opened last year, serving the areas around Caerphilly, Ystrad Mynach, Hengoed and Blackwood. We were pleased to welcome Jeff Cuthbert AM (Labour, Caerphilly) and Gwyn Price AM (Labour, Islwyn), many of whose constituents make up our large and growing volunteer workforce of the shop.

It was really gratifying to see that even in a super-modern hospital, there is still a place for Royal Voluntary Service. Indeed, our services have never been so important. The hospital has no ‘open’ wards – all patients have their own rooms, giving them much more privacy, peace and quiet, and reducing hospital infections as well. But because of that, a daily visit from the Royal Voluntary Service trolley becomes even more important – a chance to speak with someone who isn’t a doctor or nurse, to hear about the news in the outside world and to buy a bar of chocolate or a cold drink on a hot summer’s day.

But the thing which stayed with me the most after the visit was how much we have kept alive our history in an all-singing, all-dancing new hospital. I first met some of our volunteers from that area at the old Caerphilly Miners’ Hospital, shortly before it closed to make way for the new hospital. There is a wealth of history around the old Caerphilly Miners’ building, which was very grand and imposing, and had been built through the financial contributions of the miners and their families. Our presence at the hospital was part of that same proud tradition – and it was very humbling to see mementos of our long-standing association in the area being preserved in the new unit.

By the entrance to the shop at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr, Royal Voluntary Service Cymru volunteers have written a series of poems about the old hospital, our work there, and what it meant to them. I wanted to share one with you as a thought for the week:

Caerphilly District Miners’ Hospital
Gwyneth Phillips

For many years, 74 in all,
These people have answered a rallying call,
From the dark days of war
To a time of peace,
Their selfless acts have never ceased.
We do not think one day we’ll be
In need of tea and sympathy,
Someone to offer a kindly hand,
When life is not quite what we planned,
A friendly chat and welcome smile,
Someone who’ll just stop a while.
A simple act of kindness
When you’ve given up the fight
May open up a window
In a mind that hides the light.

For anyone who has ever visited, volunteered or used a Royal Voluntary Service shop, or had a friendly visit from a volunteer pushing one of our trolleys, those few words say everything about the dedication of the people who make us such a great charity.

Posted by Dr Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 13:18 Monday, 22 July 2013.

Royal Voluntary Service Cymru response to Health Committee report on the Social Services & Wellbeing Bill

Sally Rivers, Royal Voluntary Service head of operations for Wales, responds to the Health Committee report on the Social Services & Wellbeing Bill, released earlier today.

We strongly welcome today’s report. It reflects a clear consensus from the voluntary sector that information and advice available for older people needs to stay free of charge; this is vital so that older people are signposted to the right services. The Committee have also been clear that changes to eligibility criteria should not be allowed to result in people losing existing services, which is very good news for older people. Royal Voluntary Service Cymru know how important it is that older people have access to the services they need so that overall health and wellbeing isn’t compromised. If we want to promote older people’s independence, we have to maintain those low-level services – the ‘little bit of help’ – which allows them to live active and happy lives. There is still a long way until we reach a finalised Social Services & Wellbeing Bill, but this is an encouraging start.

Posted by Sally Rivers, Royal Voluntary Service Head of Operations for Wales at 00:00 Thursday, 18 July 2013.

A refreshed NHS mandate

Last week the Department of Health launched a consultation to refresh the NHS mandate. The developments and pressures on the NHS since the original mandate was published in 2012 makes it timely to refresh now. Crucial to this is the work of the Department of Health and NHS England to develop a vulnerable older people’s plan, which will explore how the NHS can improve out-of-hospital care.

The Department of Health recognises that all too often, it is vulnerable older people for whom the NHS is not providing effective services, with confusion and fragmentation over how care is provided.

The intention is to publish a plan for vulnerable older people in autumn 2013. It will set out the Government’s expectations for primary care, urgent and emergency care, and for the integration of services for the benefit of everyone. The Department of Health and NHS England are seeking views on how to achieve this ambition over the summer.

There are a number of initial proposals for priority action. These include better early diagnosis and support to stay healthy, improved access, consistent and safe out-of-hours services, enhanced choice and control and better information sharing.

But probably the most interesting is the proposal to install a named accountable clinician into the system. The Government proposes that the most vulnerable older people would benefit from having someone in primary care taking responsibility for ensuring that their care is coordinated and proactively managed. Just as patients in hospitals are under the care of a named consultant, the Government sees value in ensuring that when a vulnerable older patient needs follow-up or ongoing support having left hospital, that somebody is accountable for their care.

I expect that many believe that the GP is already responsible for coordinating the care of older people, but the Health Secretary in setting out his reasons for the move was clear. Too often there are circular conversations between the hospital, nursing home, the GP and the local authority, each only willing or able to look at their own area of responsibility to address the issue and failing the patient.

A named person who is responsible and where the buck finally stops sounds like a sound idea in practice. The fact that the named person will be a clinician assumes that they will know their way around the system and be able to get things done in a joined up way. But who will ensure that the clinician listens to and involves those that know the older person best, including the older person, their partner or close family and friends to improve their wellbeing?

As someone said as part of the Shaping our Age fieldwork published by the Royal Voluntary Service just a few weeks ago:

"The people who are in charge, I don’t know that they mean it but it’s probably because they do it all the time, they tend to treat everybody the same and it’s like you come here, you are now an old lady or an old man and its hello dear, are you alright… can you manage… some people then will just knuckle down and say oh well you know yeah probably they’re right, that is exactly what I am now you know."

Posted by at 00:00 Friday, 12 July 2013.

Glastonbury: A positive role model for older people?

Steve SmithTo coincide with last week’s launch of “Involving older age: the route to twenty-first century well-being”, the Shaping our Age team also published new quantitative research amongst over 65s. This highlighted older people's own concerns about their position in society; 61% of over 65s think that society sees them as a burden and the majority (57%) think that the media encourages the idea that older people are a problem for society. Two-thirds of older people (66%) feel that they are stereotyped and, worryingly, well over half (56%) think that older people are ignored. The vast majority (62%) of over 65s do not feel as old as they are and two-thirds (61%) don't see age as important.

We also know from our own research that older people make a significant contribution to the economy and society in many ways. In Gold Age Pensioners we estimated that in 2010 over 65s, through taxes, spending power, provision of social care and the value of their volunteering, made an astonishing net contribution of £40 billion to the UK economy. It was estimated that the positive net contribution of over 65s will grow to £77 billion by 2030.

Also last month we learned that the numbers of older people in employment continue to grow with the number of employed people aged 65 or over reaching 1,003,000.

Throwing around numbers and statistics is one thing, but how much of an impact does it have on those negative perceptions that exist in many areas of British society including the media? It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. And so it is possible that the images of older people playing rock and roll and watched by thousands upon thousands (and many more at home on television) of fans across many generations might have more chance of changing those perceptions and moving away from the stereotype. The Rolling Stones were the most anticipated act of the weekend and they seemed to deliver and receive wide acclaim from fans and critics alike. It was reported that the gates had to be closed to stop overcrowding at the venue where Bruce Forsyth was performing. Seasick Steve and Kenny Rodgers also put in sterling performances. Not far behind in age were the likes of Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and Smashing Pumpkins all big names and still able to hold the crowd’s attention and entertain.

Not a million miles away on Sunday, Bruce Springsteen, now in his mid 60’s, was playing a typical 3 hour plus set to a vast crowd at the Olympic Park in East London.

Not only do events like this give a lasting visual picture of what older people are capable of and can contribute, it also shows how the generations can come together with a common purpose, be it on stage with an eclectic mix of musical genres but also as fans with two and sometimes three generations stranding together sharing and enjoying one of life’s great experiences.

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Thursday, 04 July 2013.

The Older People’s Reference Group – a group to be proud of

I am proud to have been involved in the Shaping our Age project. But most of all I am proud to have been involved in establishing and supporting the Older People’s Reference Group that guided and shaped the project. What a great group of people it included – a mixture of many talents, experiences, perspectives and abilities. All members of the Older People’s Reference Group were themselves older people – with many local affiliations and networks. All of them are committed to acting and speaking for themselves as older people. I say to traditional policymakers, look at the OPRG as it has come to call itself – and tremble! Here are the people with a mission to make sure that you listen and who are committed to keeping you on your toes!

At our last meal after the big launch of the Shaping our Age findings, we talked together about the group’s future. People want it to have a future to make sure that the findings and the participatory principles of the Shaping our Age project have a long life and don’t end with the project’s specific three years Big Lottery funding. There was also talk of reinvigorating and refreshing the group; drawing in and apprenticing new members – making sure that the group can be as diverse as possible and helping people keep up the pressure together. Many of the older people in the OPRG have lots of experience in local, national and sometimes international groupings and are keenly aware that the group that doesn’t grow and stay open, runs the risk of becoming a clique and dying.

This offers real hope for the future. We’ve all been on a three year journey together, getting to know one another as colleague and friends and gaining new skills and insights along the road. You are never too old to learn new things – that’s one of the lessons of my life – equally you are never too young to be at risk of forgetting this.

The big lesson for me from Shaping our Age has been that enabling older people to be truly involved in every real sense (not just sitting on formal committees) is key to supporting and improving their well-being. The OPRG has been like a demonstration project for this principle. I wish it and its members every success for the future. They certainly make me feel proud to have been associated with them.

Posted by Peter Beresford, Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University at 00:00 Tuesday, 02 July 2013.

Time to act on findings of Shaping our Age

Ann Macfarlane, Chair Older People's Reference GroupThere may have been a large percentage of older aged people at the launch of the three-year research project, Shaping our Age, but age was no bar to lively and challenging debate. At times, the atmosphere was verging on electric, as older people ably put their views to Government Minister of State, Norman Lamb, Journalist Katherine Whitehorn, film-makers and all who were joining in discussions on the serious and growing issue of age - older age. In the research it was discovered that older people, that is those 65 and older, do not feel old, they do not want to be labelled thus, and they certainly do not want to be patronised and treated as children. Much of the research focused on loneliness and social isolation and visual examples were given of how bringing people together and offering a choice of activities, engenders a sense of 'well being.'. Loneliness as one grows older is endemic and often occurs when adult children leave home, a partner dies and community contact becomes non-existent or fast diminishes.

Yet, on this sunny launch day it was almost impossible to conjure up a picture of loneliness, when older people were feisty, animated, sharing stories and joking. It was a time for celebration and older people were at the heart of it.

So what makes up this major issue of loneliness? There are no easy answers so the learning from the report should be taken seriously; it is a source of practical support in working out what works.

On the homeward journey I had time to ponder on the findings of the research and and the day's events and I was thankful for the many things that older age has brought to life. For me I am blessed with what was missing when I was younger, family, friends, mobility, and sufficient resources to buy a cup of tea! Those are some of the things that are more likely to have been experienced by most when younger, not older.

Launch day for the report brought to the fore what is needed now and that we must act on the findings and achieve positive outcomes for those whose life in older age is lonely and diminished in different ways.

Posted by Ann Macfarlane, chair of Royal Voluntary Service Older People's Reference Group at 00:00 Monday, 01 July 2013.