Vaccination Clinic Volunteers, NHS Dumfries & Galloway
Volunteers play a vital role supporting flu clinics across NHS Dumfries & Galloway so that they are safe and efficient for patients and staff.
During the COVID-19 pandemic members of the public have expressed huge support for NHS services, and as a result there has been a greatly increased interest in volunteering in health and other settings. There are around 6,000 volunteers placed in health boards in NHS Scotland at any given time, but COVID-19 has required many volunteers to be stood down to keep them safe. The number of active volunteers has remained below 2,000 since April 2020. However, staff managing volunteer programmes in health settings have also developed a number of new volunteer roles, to support health boards in a variety of capacities since the first lockdown at the end of March.
A highly valuable role that has recently been developed in NHS Dumfries & Galloway is the flu clinic supporter role. The smooth running of vaccination clinics are certainly a topic of great interest at the moment, and I was keen to learn about the process and successes of the volunteers being involved in this area.
Margaret McGroggan, Volunteer Co-ordinator for the board, explained how the role was developed. The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) working on the plans for the flu clinics approached her 6 weeks before they were due to start and asked about the possibility of volunteers being involved. Margaret was keen to make sure the roles would be robust and person centred, impacting the volunteers positively as well as adding value to the service.
It was agreed between the MDT and Volunteer Co-ordinator that volunteers would support the pneumococcal vaccination clinics before the flu clinics commenced. This would be a pilot and give the team an opportunity to evaluate the impact of volunteering before committing to longer-term involvement. Four volunteers supported the pneumococcal vaccination clinic and this went well. Staff and volunteers fed into the evaluation and were able to iron out minor teething problems in preparation for the flu clinics commencing.
Margaret explained about the training for volunteers supporting vaccination clinics. New volunteers completed eLearning modules and all volunteers participated in infection control training, as well as being provided with all the relevant COVID-19 guidance regarding social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing. This is in addition to the core training modules that volunteers undertake in advance of starting the role. The volunteers supporting the clinics are a mix of new volunteers, some of which are younger students, and existing volunteers.
The Volunteer Co-ordinator provided volunteers with the COVID-19 age tool risk assessment to determine whether it was safe for them to volunteer in acute settings, and reviewed the results to make a decision. The tool lets volunteers know what their outcome is likely to be if they contract COVID-19. It is provided by the Scottish Government and is simple to use.
It works by translating the risks according to age, ethnicity, gender, BMI, and health conditions into years which are added to or subtracted from an individual's age. This allows for the calculation of a person's 'COVID-Age' and which vulnerability risk category they fall into if they catch the virus – low, moderate, high or very high.
The flu clinics commenced on the week beginning 29 September and at the time of writing volunteers are supporting flu clinics across seven sites in Dumfries & Galloway, including densely populated and rural locations:
- 36 volunteers support flu clinics throughout NHS Dumfries & Galloway on a weekly basis
- 30 in the main Vaccination Centre at the Mountainhall Treatment Centre in Dumfries every week
- 6 volunteers in rural communities
- 7 flu clinic locations in Dumfries & Galloway are supported by NHS staff and volunteers
- 6 of these locations are rural communities: Dalbeattie, Castle Douglas, Drummore, Stranraer, Whithorn, Sandhead
The role that volunteers play within the clinics is described as a "meet and greet" role. Jennifer Irving, a volunteer at the vaccination centre in Dumfries explained that the role has three main functions:
- meet and greet
- supporting attendees with COVID-19 infection control methods
- management of the flow of attendees
The volunteers at the clinics are the first point of contact for clinic attendees. Jennifer said, "The age demographic was initially people over 65. Many of them are worried about being out in public during COVID-19. They certainly have anxieties about entering a clinical area with a pandemic going on… The volunteers are a friendly and welcoming face for attendees to meet and we explain the process for them and can answer questions and concerns they may have, I think it really helps set their mind at ease". Volunteers welcome attendees and have a checklist of all the names which they tick off as people arrive.
Attendees are supported with COVID-19 guidance around social distancing, are asked to sanitise their hands, and if they have arrived without a mask they are given one to wear. Volunteers then direct the attendee to use the stairs or the lift to go to the first floor to the yellow waiting zone.
Once the attendee arrives in the waiting zone they are met by a second volunteer. They wait here to be called by clinical staff and they will then enter the blue vaccination zone. Before entering the blue zone, the volunteer will provide the attendee with a fresh mask and advise them to hand sanitise again.
In the blue zone the attendee is given the vaccination by a clinical staff member. Once they are ready to leave the blue zone they meet a third volunteer who directs them to the exit, thanks them for coming and shows them a bin in which to dispose of their mask.
The clinical lead for the vaccination programme, Gemma Stewart, took on board input from the volunteers on how to improve the flow. It was agreed that three volunteer stations should be provided to cover the clinic at Mountainhall as a whole. Jennifer told me that a request was made for telephones in the up and downstairs areas of the clinics so that volunteers could communicate with each other about the flow of attendees. The clinic in Dumfries vaccinates 9 people every 15 minutes and the volunteers are vital in keeping the flow of traffic moving. Jennifer explained, "The volunteers are able communicate with each other and the nurses so we can avoid bottle necks. It really helps people to have someone at each step of the way through the clinic. Staff just don’t have time as they’re busy doing the vaccines."
Volunteers add so much value to these clinics, and clinical staff have given some great feedback to the Volunteer Co-ordinator. Staff Nurse, Mhairi Clemie said, "The volunteers make the flow of the day easy. Makes our job easier. Wonderful for them to help us out, we couldn’t run the clinics without them." Another Staff Nurse, Helen Creighton, said, "I don't know what we would do without them. Very approachable, nothing is too much trouble for them."
June McNicol, Lead Immunisation Nurse based in the more rural areas of Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie also gave some positive feedback: "Having volunteers to meet and greet patients at the door during the flu campaign has been invaluable. Some venues were larger than others and lots of people required assistance both on arrival and when leaving. The volunteers were extremely helpful."
Jennifer explained the impact her volunteering role at the flu clinic has had on her personally. "I just love it, I get such a lot of fulfilment out of being part of the clinics. I don't think twice about helping others, even during the pandemic."
It's a theme I hear throughout all my conversations with volunteers in NHS Scotland. Helping others is the main reason people take up volunteer roles and now more than ever, in the time of COVID-19, there is heartening trend of interest in volunteering in health services.
As attention turns to the newly-announced COVID-19 vaccination, the UK Government has ordered 40 million doses. NHS boards are looking at ways to safely and effectively vaccinate millions of people and staffing these clinics is already a strong topic of conversation. Learning how effective volunteers have been in the flu clinics in NHS Dumfries & Galloway gives good evidence for the value they can add to these clinics by supporting staff
We have clapped for carers and put rainbows in our windows in 2020. Maybe now inviting the kindness of volunteers across Scotland into NHS Scotland's COVID-19 vaccination programme, to support the fight against this deadly virus, could be an impactful form of support from the general public as we move into 2021.
Margaret, Jennifer, Gemma, Mhairi, Helen and June were interviewed by Lisa Taylor from the Volunteering in NHS Scotland Programme at Healthcare Improvement Scotland.