Wednesday 24th June 2015
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Summer 2015
Emerging from an international project, Alison Germain is coordinating a volunteer service that provides companionship and support at the end of life
The ‘Care of the Dying’ volunteer service provides companionship to people who are dying in hospital, have no or few visitors, and who would otherwise be isolated or alone.
It offers a connection to the community outside the clinical setting of the hospital; a compassionate support that complements the care provided by the clinical team. In addition, it supports families who are unable to visit, or those who are emotionally exhausted from their bedside vigil.
Clinical staff also appreciate the service. One staff nurse told us: 'She [the patient] was so much more settled with your volunteer; she had spent so much time alone without any visitors.’
The service was initially piloted on six wards within the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust and was developed from the work of OPCARE9: a European Union-funded project that included a focus on understanding the role of the volunteer in end-of-life care in several European countries.
A training programme aimed at enhancing volunteers’ life skills was designed, developed and delivered with the support of volunteer experts from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Nineteen volunteers completed the training. The service was offered over six months (October 2012–March 2013), followed by comprehensive evaluation in line with Medical Research Council guidance. Analysis of the data identified that the service was extremely beneficial, meeting its aims of providing an emotional and spiritual support to the dying, with support and reassurance for families.
Support from Macmillan
Following the successful pilot implementation, Macmillan has provided twelve months’ funding for my post as a full-time Volunteer Coordinator, which I started in October 2014. My role provides an exciting opportunity to further expand and develop this innovative and valuable service.
I am now looking to recruit and train another cohort of volunteers. This would increase the capacity of service provision and enable the volunteer team to support an increased number of people.
Extending our provision
With an increased number of trained volunteers, the plan is to expand the service from helping people in the last hours and days of life to those in the last weeks. This would extend support to vulnerable people who are isolated or feel unable to speak to friends or family members.
The volunteer service provides a model of best practice that could be replicated in other trusts and within other care settings. It has already attracted expressions of interest for future collaborative projects both nationally and internationally.
However, the powerful feedback received from relatives, ward staff and ‘Care of the Dying’ volunteers perhaps provides the most fitting testament to the true value of the programme. In March 2014, a bereaved relative and service user told us: ‘I have no doubt that you provided him with what he needed and wanted on his final journey… a caring and lovely friend… thank you.’
Macmillan Volunteer Coordinator
Royal Liverpool University Hospital