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New volunteer role assists patients home

A new volunteer role, developed by West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) with the support of the national NHS Helpforce initiative, is helping patients to get home and settled safely when they leave hospital.

Usually, if a patient is well enough to go home, their loved ones or family members often collect them. However, sometimes this is not possible, and they may need to find an alternative way home.

The Trust’s voluntary services team, in partnership with Helpforce, has developed a transport companion role, where volunteers support patients in a taxi when they are discharged from hospital, to ensure they have a smooth care experience when leaving and returning home. To begin with, this service will be available for patients discharged from the emergency department and acute medical unit.

Michelle Boor, community volunteers coordinator at WSFT, said: “Developing this role has been a real team effort, from the staff in the early intervention team, to our colleagues in social care and the Red Cross, and even the volunteers themselves.

“This role will support our patients once they’ve left the care of our hospital. It means we can really go that extra mile for patients and show them that we care about them even after they’ve officially been discharged. 

“It’s the little things that make a difference – our volunteers can put the heating on and make sure they’ve got some milk in the fridge for a cup of tea. It’s a personal touch to welcome the patient home.”

Gareth Blissett, early intervention team lead at WSFT, said: “Although the volunteers don’t take on the role or responsibility of a staff member, we do ensure they are fully trained for their own safety and always go out in pairs with a patient.

“We work closely with the volunteer travel companions to ensure a patient is comfortable and has everything they need with them to return home. Once the volunteers arrive home with the patient they can offer to carry any small bags or small pieces of equipment, if appropriate, and help them settle back comfortably. If the volunteer or patient has any concerns, the volunteer can feed back to us so we can address them.”

Jacqui Ricot, who started volunteering with WSFT in April 2018, is the first volunteer to take on this important new role. She said: “I think the biggest thing I do for our patients is help them not to be so anxious about returning home. I do the little things like check the food in the fridge is in date, look for any obvious trip hazards or health and safety issues, pick up their post and fold up their laundry if they would like me to. I’m a helping hand for the practical things to help them settle back home after being in hospital.”

Ben Long, WSFT Helpforce lead, said: “Innovations like this are really important as they prioritise vital volunteer help for patients who do not have their own family or wider support network, and at the same time improve the patient discharge processes. The transport companion role supports patients on their way home and creates a wraparound provision of care and compassion. This benefits those being supported, health and social care services, the volunteers themselves and the community as whole.”

If you would be interested in volunteering at West Suffolk Hospital, please contact WSFT voluntary services team via telephone: 01284 713169 or email:



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Jacqui Ricot, volunteer transport companion (centre) with the early intervention team

Jacqui Ricot, volunteer transport companion (centre) with the early intervention team