Could you find the time to volunteer in a hospital?

PUBLISHED: 18:31 28 November 2018 | UPDATED: 18:31 28 November 2018

Volunteering in hospitals is becoming more common to fill the growing need in care roles as paid NHS staff become more stretched

Volunteering in hospitals is becoming more common to fill the growing need in care roles as paid NHS staff become more stretched


Volunteers are needed more than ever inside hospitals. Rachel Moore asks if you have it in you to become one

A friend has spent the last few weeks visiting her father in hospital.

When I say visiting, I mean pulling on rubber gloves and scrubbing, disinfecting and sweeping the room where he was transferred from intensive care after a critical illness, feeding him and keeping him clean.

She moved her desk to his bedside from her office 20 miles away to keep up with her full-time job so she could provide the care that paid hospital staff didn’t have the time to do, bringing her own cleaning products to give his room a daily once-over to fend off infection because his immune system was so poor.

Without her, he would have been left alone in a filthy room, covered in food where he had tried to feed himself in a dirty bed, hungry, frustrated, uncomfortable and dehydrated, she said.

“Until you’ve experienced emergency admissions and a long stay in hospital, you have no idea of just how critical the state of care is,” she said, distressed and disillusioned. “I just wish I could have helped everyone else in there that didn’t have a me to look after them.”

She’s just the type of person that a new Christmas campaign by Helpforce, the charity that works to increase volunteering in hospital, is targeting to fill these gaps in hospital.

Backed by NHS England, it is hoping to reel in to its new volunteering army by appealing to former patients, and presumably their loved ones who witnessed the parlous state of ward ‘care’, to give up their time to do what professionals don’t have time to do.

In the 10-year plan for the future of the health service, Europe’s biggest employer, volunteers play a key role.

Anyone over 16 is being asked to offer at least three hours a week for six months, starting in the spring. The plan is to multiply the 74,000 volunteers who help today.

Anticipating the Brexit-effect on hospital staffing by having an army of do-gooders on hand perhaps?

Let’s not pussy-foot around, volunteers mean people working and doing what should be done by paid staff, for free, in our brilliant, world-leading NHS we believe us taxpayers pay for.

Hospitals’ functioning- more importantly, the welfare, care and daily wellbeing of the sick and dying in them - must never become reliant on unpaid labour and goodwill by the unqualified.

Tea runs, reading to patients and volunteering in hospital shops are one thing, “comforting” dementia patients and sitting with the dying, as the plan lays out, are not task for the unqualified.

Where do I start with the risks and flaws in a scheme that suggests volunteers help vulnerable patients with paperwork?

This is not about dusting down window sills, filling water jugs and emptying bins, this is big real life stuff that shouldn’t be taken lightly by throwing untrained people in so boxes are ticked.

Hospitals awash with unqualified people, some clueless, others taking their responsibility too far, the unscrupulous, the plain nasty, and worse.

The risks and potential consequences of exposing the most vulnerable to strangers when they’re helpless, powerless and dependent makes me shudder.

Patients are still reeling from phoney psychiatrist Zholia Alemi, who practices psychiatry for 22 years with no qualifications, working as a locum consultant psychiatrist fro the Norfolk an Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) for more than a year in 2014 -15. We’ve all read cases of other fake doctors spending years practicing in hospitals undetected.

No one can deny the NHS is a crumbling system with too many people to look after with two few resources and staff. But plugging the gaps for free can never be the solution.

It’s a quick-fix look-good tick box exercise, but never an effective solution for improved care. And still no mention of chronic under funding, or funding in the wrong places and astronomical salaries paid to the wrong people.

In fact, the more volunteers engaged, the more leeway to cut funding even more.

The idea will bring more chaos to an organization groaning from chaos. A simple rota of volunteers is a nightmare to manage. Volunteers don’t have to turn up if they don’t feel like it, they make mistakes, and they take on too much or do to little. It’s the very nature of volunteering. Goodwill not responsibility.

Pay the right people, for goodness sake.

The NHS and Helpforce insist say it’s not a cost-cutting alternative to trained staff but to provide the bits that qualified staff don’t have time for (because there’s simply not enough of them?) like comforting scared dementia patients. But this takes skill and isn’t the task for a well-meaning volunteer.

The idea isn’t without its merits. Reading to patients, fetching and carrying and adding comfort enrichment to patients’ lives is a brilliant antidote to loneliness.

Volunteering offers purpose and boosts self-worth.

For the bored retired – becoming fewer and fewer – and the stay-at-home wives – again, an ever-decreasing resource – the scheme might offer purpose.

But it’s not the job of the NHS to fill their time.

Remember when the government insisted that teaching assistants would never do the job of teachers, and look where we are today?

But the best comment in chats about this came from a retired man who said: “ I’d love to volunteer but I couldn’t afford the parking.”

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