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Your Later Life 2019

A visitor a day keeps the doctor away

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Sam Ward

Director of Operations and Deputy CEO at Royal Voluntary Service

A recent study[1] revealed almost two in five hospital patients have no visitors during their stay, with a lack of interaction and companionship said to have a detrimental impact on recovery. Volunteers are proving the perfect tonic.

We are often at our most vulnerable, physically and mentally, when in hospital. It’s a time, when, more than ever, we need a strong support system in place. Yet, according to research among 200 NHS nurses, two fifths of hospital patients get no visitors during their stay.

The nurses we talked to explained how this absence of company can negatively affect a patient’s health, slow their recovery and even result in a longer hospital stay.

Of course, it’s not always possible for family and friends to visit, especially if they do not live nearby. While, for older patients, a support network they previously enjoyed may simply no longer exist.

Royal Voluntary Service is passionate about ensuring everyone has the option of being supported in hospital and believes companionship and help to stay mobile, is crucial to the recovery process.

Two fifths of hospital patients get no visitors during their stay.

How hospital volunteers can help the NHS

This is where volunteers are playing an increasingly important role – providing time, companionship and support to the patients who need it and freeing up NHS staff time to concentrate on clinical care.

You will find our volunteers in hundreds of hospitals across Britain, including on the wards of many large hospital Trusts and Boards.

Our volunteers assist with patient care in an assortment of ways, ranging from prompting patients to eat at mealtimes and encouraging hydration to providing much needed company at their bedside and reducing anxiety.

Many of our volunteers also specialise in roles that offer unique support. For instance, we have volunteers who train to run chair-based exercise classes for patients, which help them improve physical strength and combat muscle wastage.

Ultimately, having volunteers on wards not only improves patient experience and outcomes, but makes them stronger and more resilient when they return home and reduces their chance of readmission.

An hour a week can make all the difference

We’ve monitored, measured and evaluated the huge value volunteers can deliver to patients, as well as to hospital staff. The only problem is, we need more of them.

Despite the known benefits, volunteers are still not as present in hospitals as they could be. One element of this is that more needs to be done to support Trusts to develop and deliver effective volunteering strategies, but equally important is inspiring the public to step forward to share their time.

Volunteering on-ward can take as little as one hour per week, but that 60 minutes can make all the difference to a patient who is lonely or vulnerable – and even speed up their recovery.

Visit royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk for volunteering opportunities in your area

Royal Voluntary Service has 20,000 volunteers over the course of a year. This includes 8,000 volunteers in hospitals.
Royal Voluntary Service aims to double its volunteers’ numbers by 2023.
Many of our on-ward services are financed through profits from its hospital shops, cafes and trolleys.

[1] The data was drawn from a survey conducted of 200 nurses in Britain who worked in an acute Trust by PCP in July 2019.

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