Volunteering case studies

Volunteering case studies

Students Mandeep and Subah are fluent in several languages. They visit patients in Glasgow and help to overcome isolation and language and cultural barriers.

NHS translators mainly work in clinical consultations, but some patients can feel isolated and miss daily general conversation. Volunteers in Greater Glasgow and Clyde are occasionally assigned to specific wards to speak with individual patients. Ward volunteers Mandeep and Subah visit patients in hospital who are lonely and would like some company due to lack of visitors. Both are multilingual and able to speak Urdu and Punjabi.

Mandeep and Subah were assigned to meet with Mrs S. On their first meeting, it became clear that Mrs S was very lonely and isolated. Over the course of the week Mrs S often spoke of her family values and sharing teachings about life. The volunteers found their discussions very emotional and enjoyable as she reminded them of their grandmothers and mothers, due to sharing the same language, values, teachings, and habits.

What happened?

On subsequent visits the volunteers successfully encouraged Mrs S to eat and drink, when she had initially refused to, and also calmed her down when she seemed hysterical and confused. The nurses were having difficulty communicating with her and the volunteers were able to speak with her and find out the reason for her distress. Mrs S was clearly missing her family and was only willing to eat if her son came and fed her. As the volunteers had built up a rapport with her they were able to reassure her that her family would be visiting and she was loved by many people. With this support she slowly relaxed and partially returned to her normal self: eating and drinking, singing, telling stories with the overwhelming ethos of love and family.

Mrs S was later moved to a rehabilitative hospital. The ward consultant, who could see the differences their interactions were having on her well-being, asked the volunteers if they would like to follow the patient on her journey. The volunteers have continued to visit her and she has been glad to see them. Following their visits other members of staff noticed a remarkable improvement in her well-being. They noted her hair was neat as the volunteers had braided it and she was sitting up and singing with them. As the volunteers do not drive they have been supported by the Volunteer Coordinator with transport to visits to make it easier for them.

What changed?

The volunteers have reported that supporting Mrs S has made them very aware of the effects good communication can have on a patient’s health and wellbeing and how their multilingual abilities have helped her.

Mrs S herself expressed that being with good company lifted her spirits and she was more comfortable communicating in the language she prefers. Mrs S was able to share feelings and emotions that she would otherwise repress and therefore decreased her anxiety and a sense of loneliness.

Staff noted stark differences in Mrs S: less agitation and distress, and increased fluid and nutrition uptake. The girls also wrote down easy questions in Punjabi phonetically, such as "Would you like something to drink?" so that staff could communicate more effectively.

Lessons Learned and Actions Taken

This has demonstrated the importance of multilingual volunteers and the vital support that communication social contact play in patients' well-being.

The case study has been shared with staff colleagues and future volunteers.

This case study was produced for Volunteers' Week 2018.

Last Updated: 23 April 2021