What does impact volunteering in hospitals look like?

Impact volunteering in A&E at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Kingston has a strong legacy of volunteering by young people. 42 per cent of their volunteers are 16-25 year olds and there’s strong demand from young people wanting to volunteer and gain experience behind the scenes of the healthcare system.

Young volunteers are deployed in a number of roles. Many choose to work in A&E offering guidance and navigation as well as a listening ear.

Kingston is part of the Nesta Helping in Hospital’s programme, using impact volunteering to maximise the outcome of time, given by volunteers, on patients.

Recently, it worked with staff in A&E, asking them what more volunteers could do to help. Following suggestions, Kingston is now training volunteers in ‘distraction therapy’ for patients visibly traumatised by their injuries. The technique gives volunteers a structured way to help, with specific conversation techniques and resources (like books and toys for young children) available in the department/on the ward. The extra training means volunteers are having a bigger impact on patient satisfaction and other outcomes.

Impact volunteers, specifically deployed to help in ways the hospital knows (with empirical evidence) make a difference, are being mobilised in other places around the hospital too like dementia wards and the home from hospital service.

Impact volunteering on surgical wards at in Cambridge University Hospital Trust

Cambridge Hospital Trust has found it doesn’t need to advertise for young volunteers. The makeup of the local population means lots of young people are looking to give their time to volunteer (perhaps as part of Duke of Edinburgh or another school scheme) or to gain experience ahead of a university degree or job in healthcare.

Currently 62 per cent of their volunteers are under 24 (and 45 per cent under 20).

It has smartly divided out applications from young people who purely want work experience (who are dealt with by a different team), from those who are interested in giving more of their time. It currently asks young people to give 30 hours over 15 weeks as a minimum commitment.

Volunteers can apply online. If accepted they complete training with a group of similar people (usually 40 in a group) and sign up to give their time as a guide or navigator in the hospital. After they have completed their 15 weeks volunteering, the cohort meet up again to share experiences and encourage one another. Volunteers are rewarded with a certificate and badge. Those that continue can receive extra training in anxiety and nutrition techniques and be deployed on dementia wards and others in impact volunteering roles.

Cambridge is part of the Nesta Helping in Hospital’s programme, using impact volunteering to maximise the outcome of time given by volunteers on patients.

It has recently undertaken a study of the impact of its volunteer mealtime companion role. We know that patients appreciate a friendly face at mealtimes and having a volunteer around to talk during mealtimes can increase patient satisfaction. But when it studied the impact of trained volunteer feeders on its older patient wards it was surprised to see that the hours given did not make a significant difference to patient nutrition. It is now comparing the findings with patient nutrition surgical wards, where initial results look more promising. This sort of approach to maximising the impact of volunteers by deploying them in roles we know (empirically) make a difference is exactly what Helping in Hospitals is all about.


Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Chief Partnership Officer

Vicki was Chief Partnership Officer

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