Collaborative working with volunteers

Case study: Jessie Voon, Deputy Sister, Emergency Department, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUHFT).

Background to learning

The incredible response to the call for NHS Volunteer Responders illustrates the important contribution of volunteers in health and care.  Volunteers have offered their time, skills and expertise freely to support people who are most in need. Volunteering offers a range of rewarding opportunities however, during the pandemic, deploying volunteers safely presented a new challenge. This case study looks at how nursing teams have worked with volunteer coordinators to identify new ways of working for volunteer colleagues.

Learning and advice to be shared

At NNUHFT the nursing team and volunteer coordinators devised new ways of working to support high quality and allow nurses to continue to focus on clinical care through delegation of non-clinical duties to volunteer colleagues. Within the NNUHFT Emergency Department a volunteer coordinator role was developed as a secondment from the healthcare support team. Here the coordinator role ensured volunteers worked effectively and efficiently using insight gained from being part of the wider clinical support team.

Volunteers helped with a range of vital activities:

  • Support to nursing staff to ensure clinical areas remained stocked.
  • Assistance to patients with completing experience surveys.
  • Support in moving equipment such as wheelchairs to where it was needed.
  • Support with appropriate administration tasks.
  • Supporting individualised care, for example by assisting people, where needed, to use a ‘this is me’ booklet so staff understand how to best support a person with dementia in an unfamiliar environment.

In NNHUFT, volunteer coordinators are collaborating with teams to organise volunteer activity which follows trust and national guidelines, and which can therefore continue safely, even if a second wave was to occur.

The CNO national Shared Decision-Making Council members have also highlighted valuable volunteer roles.

  • designated ‘drop-off’ contacts for family/friends handing over personal belongings. This supported infection prevention practices and reassured families their loved one’s familiar belongings would be handled sensitively and with care where restricted visiting practices were in place.
  • hospital ‘navigators’, meeting and greeting people and handling enquiries from visitors to the hospitals and its services.
  • support to staff to manage their health and wellbeing, for example collecting and delivering hot meals.

In community settings volunteering has supported smooth delivery of patient care for ‘shielded’ patients and supported community teams with timely prescription deliveries.  Patient transport volunteers have supported discharge by helping people settle back into their homes as well as maintaining social contacts for those who become isolated.

Would it be beneficial to retain these changes?

Council members recognised that working with volunteer colleagues can make a significant contribution to high-level system outcomes for example by extending/adding value to services, developing community assets or making a real difference when services are particularly pressured.  Experience during the pandemic has shown integration between community and acute volunteering and it is extremely valuable to capture this learning as the restoration work progresses.

More immediately, the use of volunteers to support social distancing measures gives people confidence in using NHS services and can be helpful in avoiding delayed presentation.

Volunteer coordinators have worked hard to manage any potential risk to volunteers and enable safe volunteering.  Coordinators working in an integrated way with nursing teams can be helpful in identifying the volunteering activities that nurses and other clinicians really value as part of supporting great care.

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