COVID Response Volunteer – Shopper at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital
COVID-19 Response Volunteer positions were created to enable volunteers in a variety of roles to continue to support their communities safely throughout the pandemic. One such role – a shopper at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital – offers an invaluable shopping service to patients while enabling staff to carry on with their core duties.
The role was introduced at the Volunteer Hub in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH). The Volunteer Hub, established in 2008, is a project delivered by Volunteer Edinburgh, which is unique in engaging both patients and members of the public in volunteering. The hospital provides psychiatric and mental health services, including support for learning disabilities, dementia, forensic psychiatry and a range of other specialised services.
The time patients spend in the hospital varies, with some being inpatients for a number of years. Whether a patient volunteers themselves, or are matched with a public volunteer, all Hub activities are designed to support patients to achieve specific treatment and recovery goals. Volunteer roles and activities were created in a person-centred way to match patients’ needs, abilities and aspirations. This ensures they have the greatest chance of success, despite the challenges they face with their illness.
Angela Farr, Royal Edinburgh Hospital Service Manager, said:
“Volunteering helps patients build self-esteem, structure, routine and gives them a sense of purpose. We work closely with the occupational therapy services to support patients to engage in volunteering activity in the hospital as a stepping stone back into the community.”
The hospital has a long history of volunteering with members of the public but this has significantly expanded since 2013. What started off small as a book trolley service has now evolved into a vibrant volunteer hub. Patients and clinicians were able to identify where volunteers could make a real difference and over the years the Patient Engagement volunteer role has been developed and tailored. Activities include badminton, language classes and Scrabble alongside sensory activities such as music, pampering sessions and a very popular therapet partnership with Canine Support Scotland. The Volunteer Hub staff have worked closely with clinicians to ensure that all activities support the treatment goals of patients and that assessment and management of risk is shared by Volunteer Hub and NHS staff.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic all patient-facing volunteer roles and activities had to stand down. For the first time in the history of the Hub volunteers were asked to provide a distanced service for patients rather than carrying out relationship based activities.
The COVID-19 Response Shopper role was created to allow public volunteers who were able to continue volunteering to provide a much-valued shopping service for patients. Shoppers collect lists and money from staff who have gathered them from the wards and try to purchase everything on the lists, before delivering the items and change back to the ward. Due to lower staff numbers and no hospital visits the shopping service has enabled staff to carry on with their duties and has had a huge impact on patient morale.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte had been a befriender and therapet volunteer. Since June 2020 she has been redeployed into a number of different roles. She told me:
"I started volunteering with my dog as a therapet. When my daughter suddenly developed severe anxiety and ended up needing support at home from a community psychiatric nurse and phycologist for an intense period of about nine months, I was so grateful for the support that I got from the NHS so I decided I wanted to give something back. I knew how important my dog and cat had been to my daughter to get her through her crisis and I had a friend who had registered her dog as a therapet, so it was an obvious thing for me to do. I can’t put into words what a difference it makes.”
As Charlotte was already a registered volunteer she was contacted by the Volunteer Hub and invited to be involved in the COVID-19 response roles which were running whilst the therapets service was temporarily stopped. Charlotte agreed and initially helped assemble activity bags which were being distributed to patients on the wards, before moving on to her current role as a shopper.
Charlotte provided further insight into the volunteering role she carried out:
“'I like the role as it gives me a purpose during lockdown. It has given me a focus and makes me feel like I’m doing something to help people who aren’t as fortunate as me. I really feel for the patients who don’t have much freedom at all at the moment, which is obviously really difficult for them. There is a team of us who do it and everyone is really supportive. I find it really worthwhile”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has broadened the reach of the Volunteer Hub within the hospital and more wards have been using its services. Volunteers like Charlotte are making a real difference to patients and staff at a time when their support is needed more than ever. Given the many challenges to the NHS during the pandemic, the benefits of volunteering have never mattered more.
Angela and Charlotte were interviewed by Linda Young from the Volunteering in NHS Scotland Programme at Healthcare Improvement Scotland.