How and why we began the programme
The Hospice of St Francis has a team of volunteers who visit patients with a life-limiting illness in the community, usually on a weekly basis. The objective is to relieve carers or to befriend socially-isolated patients. The service, in its current format, was started in 2006 but the hospice had volunteers working in the community for several years before this.
The Ellerman Foundation enabled the hospice to set up this team of volunteers to visit patients at home. The aim was for patients to experience reduced feelings of distress, loneliness and isolation and to support them to improve their capacity to interact socially.
The challenges we faced and how we overcame these
The main challenge is managing the volunteers as they are lone working in the community. To overcome this we have a checking out system where the volunteer sends a message to notify the service coordinators that the visit has finished and all is well.
Boundaries and emergency procedures can also be a challenge, as keeping everyone safe is our priority. Volunteers have to go through 60 hours of initial training before they can visit patients in the community and are subsequently offered regular supervision and further training sessions that address issues such as maintaining boundaries and confidentiality.
When a new patient is referred there is a careful assessment of needs and interests, followed by a matching and thorough introduction process. Another challenge is when a patient dies suddenly and the volunteer can be taken by surprise even though we work hard to prepare them for this.
The benefits we have seen
The benefits of our service are that carers are given a much needed break to enjoy some ‘me time’, knowing that the person they are caring for will be looked after.
For those who live alone, a volunteer visit can make their day more meaningful, particularly if they are unable to access their local community. 'Carer support is a lifeline for me I feel someone is aware when I struggle and will try and help.'
Our advice to others
The advice for anyone thinking of setting up a similar service would be to start small and build up gradually, ensuring that volunteers are given adequate training to prepare them for their role.
'My volunteer has a wide range of interests and enables us to have intellectual debates and discussion and this has changed my brain from becoming sterile back to its former searching self.' (Carer)
For more information please contact Claire Hewitt.