Volunteers on hospital wards can play a vital role with the many patients who don’t have visitors, new research by Royal Voluntary Service found.

A survey of nurses working in acute hospitals by the charity identified that the two fifths of patients without visitors, require additional support from the nursing team. Lack of visitors was felt by nurses to have a detrimental effect on patients’ health and speed of recovery in a number of ways. These include; they are less likely to be mobile (43%), less likely to be stimulated through conversation (56%) and less likely to follow medical advice. A considerable number, 37%, were more likely to have a longer stay in hospital.

Over half of the NHS nurses questioned (56%) said a volunteer presence on ward was very important and that volunteers could help with patient care in a variety of ways. In particular they referenced; increasing patient satisfaction by providing vital non-medical support on wards (49%) and improving patient nutrition and hydration levels by helping at mealtimes and during the day (50%).

Previous research published in a Kings Fund report commissioned by Royal Voluntary Service and Helpforce, also found strong support for volunteering among frontline staff. Highlighting the practical help they provide which in turn frees staff up for clinical care, 90% said volunteers add a lot of value for patients and 74% said they also add value for staff.

Christine Thorne (37) is one such volunteer. She has been a Royal Voluntary Service on ward volunteer at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary since November 2018. Christine’s role involves visiting patients and spend time chatting with them. She is also trained to offer meal time assistance and will refresh patients’ water, tea or coffee.

"My dad spent time in hospital before he passed away and it was primarily only my brother and I who visited him. It makes me sad to think there are people in hospital with no one at all to come see them. Hospitals can be a scary place at the best of times, more so if you don’t have a friendly face to help you through it. I always let the patient lead the discussion, and it tends to be about their families, hobbies or their life when they were younger.

"If I am there during a meal time, I will help cut up patients’ food so they can eat with one hand more easily and mop up any spills or dropped food to keep their clothes or pyjamas clean. Also I might assist with little things like peeling a banana, taking the lid of a tub of ice cream or simply taking their tray away when they’ve finished. If there is a patient who can’t see too well, I provide a wee bit of encouragement to help them find their fork on the tray."

Christine Thorne, 37, on ward volunteer at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

"Volunteers like Christine make a real difference to the ward and we are lucky to have such a dedicated volunteer team. They provide company for the patients, some of whom don't get any visitors and can be left feeling isolated. You can't put a price on the value of that social interaction, especially for our older patients."

Susan Webster, Senior Charge Nurse on Ward 102 at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Following the NHS Long Term plan asking hospitals to double their volunteers in the next ten years and the recognition of the help they can provide by the NHS nursing team, Royal Voluntary Service is calling on more hospitals to make the most of volunteers to improve patient health.

"With results showing two-fifths of patients may not see a visitor during their hospital stay, it is clear that more is needed to be done to support them. Volunteers offer a professional support service, encouraging mental stimulation, physical activity, and more that can play a significant role in both mental and physical recovery. It is vital that hospitals work together with volunteer service providers to make sure that patients across the country are able to access this support."

Sam Ward, Director of Commissioned Services for Royal Voluntary Service

For further information

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

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