Befriending Plus Volunteers helped patients stay connected with their loved ones during the pandemic

31st October 2021


The team of Befriending Plus Volunteers at St Pancras Rehabilitation Unit (SPRU) has been operating since last October, led by a previous volunteer Kirsty who is now a staff member and still a volunteer. The focus of the Unit is largely on geriatric and psychiatric care.

As the first wave of COVID-19 approached and with subsequent restrictions on patients’ visitors throughout 2020 and much of 2021, the service quickly realised that they needed a way to ensure that patients were not left isolated and at risk, making contact between patients and family members possible. As a physical rehabilitation hospital, most of the patients are elderly people who suffer from a range of problems such as strokes and injuries caused by falls. Many of these patients did not have anyone they could talk to or were unable to use a smartphone, either physically or technically, to contact family members.

The Trust had distributed some iPads to the Unit for patients to connect to family members and friends. Unfortunately, staff and patients lacked time and or technical support and many patients simply could not operate their devices. St Pancras Befriending Plus Ward Assistant Service arose, in part, thanks to the efforts of that one absolute star volunteer, Kirsty. Kirsty has a strong background in IT, and due to “a happy coincidence”, had plenty of time to offer to the hospital. She effectively put everything in place for the cohorts of volunteers that have followed up. She set up a system for using the tablets and starting all the necessary digital processes that would ensure patients would be able to use their devices. This enabled the creation of a new role, Ward Befrienders Plus.

With a more specific set of responsibilities than previous general ward assistants. These volunteers' main role is to provide support and company to patients and they also get involved in other tasks as needed. A group of currently 18 volunteers work together to ensure patients and family member/ friends calls take place. These volunteers are there for a minimum of three hours (most volunteers do more than three hours in a shift) and operate on a rota system to ensure there is a constant level of support. One of the family members said: ”I would like to relay our sincere thanks and appreciation to all the volunteers who have helped us by communicating with my mother during her time spent in St Pancras hospital. I understand how stretched you must be trying to accommodate all the patients and families wishes. You are all silent workers who really deserve so much more for your volunteering and caring attitude. Thank you again for all your hard work.” Volunteers work as a team, supporting each other while on shift, training new volunteers and acting as peer mentors to them.

There are regular Zoom meetings where everyone joins in and shares the positives and the negatives in the last few weeks -the idea is to learn from one another and also make sure everyone is supported when things don’t go according to plan. One of the volunteers, Amara, says about her role: “It’s important to put yourself in the place of the patient to understand what they may be going through while in sick in the hospital to be able to respond to their non-medical need/care . It will help you to be very patient while following the volunteer rules and procedures in delivering the best care to them.” The empathy, care and warmth of this group of volunteers is an example to all. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, they have different skills and interests that they share with the patients. They are encouraged to “bring themselves fully as a person” to the role, which helps connect and break the ice with patients. They also speak different languages and represent the variety of patients in the ward - sometimes it is just nice to talk in your native language, especially after a stroke which may have affected language and speech. Their role and support is acknowledged by hospital staff too: “It’s so wonderful working with you guys; you are always so keen to help and practical too!!”“Well done to the team –Volunteers really make a huge difference for all of us."

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