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Welcoming back our volunteers

Everyone’s heard of volunteers and the benefits they can bring to supporting services and people. This has been especially apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic with people stepping up to support their neighbours and people in their community needing a helping hand during the lockdowns. We have also seen volunteers in action as part of the national Covid vaccination programme.

Volunteering in NHS organisations has been established across the UK for many years and West Suffolk Hospital has had a voluntary service since it’s opening in 1974. In 2012 when I joined the voluntary services department we had a large number of volunteers who were giving their time to support our staff and patients in various volunteer roles.

Friends volunteer Carolyn BlackmanAs a team of three staff working in the department we knew we could grow and develop the service and expand the volunteer roles to enhance the patient experience even more. This initiative was embraced by the trust and with the constant flow of volunteer applications we were receiving we held two days of interviews each month, the number of volunteers increased and the red lanyard brigade was on a mission to give as much time and support as they could in their roles- and they loved it!

Volunteers are a very special group of people in our community who give their time and passion for helping people - free of charge. There are many reasons why people want to volunteer at our Trust and we hear some heart-warming stories from applicants which include having recently retired, moved into the local area, lonely and need company, have spare time on their hands and want to give something back to the NHS for wonderful treatment they or a family member have received at our hospital. We also have staff retired from our hospital who want to come back to volunteer. Whatever their reason we want to embrace their desire to become a volunteer and welcome then into our service.

Each year the number of volunteers and the number of hours given by them increased and by the end of 2019 our service had expanded with new roles and our number of volunteers had grown to just shy of 400 and in that year they gave just under 50,000 hours of volunteering!

Our volunteers offer their time and commitment to a wide range of things across the hospital including:

  • Volunteering on the information desk and being that point of call for all patients and visitors coming into our hospital
  • Being a wheelchair volunteer, helping those with mobility issues get from point A and point B while offering a friendly ear
  • Picking up medication from our pharmacy and delivering it to wards as part of the bleep volunteering team
  • And being a friendly face in our Friends Shop, serving a whole range of items to customers that include patients, visitors and staff!

We have also developed our student and young volunteer programme to give students the opportunity to come into our health premises to volunteer or for those interested in a healthcare career to have clinical shadowing sessions with some of our health professionals. We were so proud of our service and knew we could continue its development.

Information desk volunteer Pat CootSadly, in March 2020 we had to stand down all our volunteers due to the coronavirus pandemic. It felt our department had gone from being such an integral part of our trust to now being decimated. We had no volunteers coming in and as voluntary services staff we now had to work from home, away from our close colleagues in our department.

We were concerned about our volunteers. Knowing how important their volunteering is to them we were worried about their well-being and how they were coping with the lockdown which had now been imposed.

We called them on a regular basis to chat and to generally keep in touch with them. We wanted them to know we were thinking about them and missing them. It was a terrible time for all of us.

We are so proud that a cohort of our volunteers supported our staff vaccine programme at the beginning of this year and we have had some volunteers back into non-clinical roles since early spring. We are also grateful that some of our volunteers have been supporting the community vaccination programmes – once a volunteer, always a volunteer!

Here we are now in the summer of 2021 and it finally feels like we are turning the corner from the ‘annus horrobilis’ of 2020 and early 2021. We are so excited to now be welcoming more of our volunteers back into their roles and to see them again after such a long time. We are enjoying hearing all their news and are overwhelmed with their enthusiasm to return to volunteer.

As we cautiously move forward, our future plan is to reinstate more of our volunteers, rebuild our service, and towards the end of this year begin recruiting new volunteers. Look out for more of our volunteers being back in their roles of supporting our staff and patients, and welcome the red lanyard brigade back again!

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Voluntary services manager Val Dutton

Voluntary services manager Val Dutton