How our volunteering team responded to COVID-19
12th July 2020
Written by Ruth Paterson, Voluntary Services Lead at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
For me, 2020 promised to be an exciting year for our service. We were hoping to deliver new volunteering projects and initiatives, such as running the End of Life Care volunteering project with Helpforce, expanding Youth Volunteering, and developing a new programme for volunteers to support our A&E department.
Yet, everything changed on the evening of 23rd March when the Government announced the implementation of lockdown across the country in response to Covid-19.
How did we respond?
As soon as the announcement was made, we took the decision to stand down a majority of our volunteers; from 1,000 volunteers to less than 100 in one day. Looking back, it was the right decision to make, because most of our volunteers fell into the high risk category and we had to put our duty to care for their safety first
Our Trust was severely hit by COVID-19 in the beginning. Not only did many patients lose their lives, we also lost eight colleagues due to the virus. It was absolutely heart-breaking for us all. Yet, everyone came into work with strength, resilience and positivity to care for patients. I admire them all.
But the hospital needed more help, and fast, to ensure patients had the right support and that staff wellbeing was a high priority. And we knew volunteers could play a big role in this.
I contacted Joe Crook, volunteer service manager at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust (CWNT), to ask for his help as I knew he was running a response volunteering model at his Trust. Through the work that Joe has been sharing on the Learning Zone, I discovered the Response Volunteer Role at CWNT and I could see how this role would be beneficial for our Trust.
Response volunteers provide help whenever they are needed. They also have a wide range of skills to meet varying demands. Our response volunteers help with a variety of tasks, such as refilling food and drinks supplies for staff, delivering letters to patients, distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) and donations, to name a few. We set up a volunteer hub bleep so it was easy for departments to request volunteer help.
We adjusted and adapted the CWNT role to suit the needs of our Trust and to work with our Trust’s policies and operational procedures. We identified a physical Volunteer Hub, acting as a central place to coordinate volunteers so they could respond to the demands as they arose.
To run such a scheme, we needed a new type of volunteers, aged between 18 to 69 and in good health. That meant we needed to recruit them, train them, and get them on-board quickly.
How did it unfold?
We ran a recruitment campaign, with an appeal in local newspapers and social media channels. Our busy communications team was supported by Helpforce who produced the press release.
Within a week, we received over 300 applications and were thrilled with the huge support from the local community. Before Covid-19, it was un-thinkable to process that many applications, provide training, and get the volunteers on board within a few weeks. But we managed to get nearly 100 volunteers started within days. We were able to streamline our recruitment process, by focusing on one role and carrying out DBS checks online, as well as accepting online references.
We decided to hold face-to-face training sessions so that the new volunteers could have discussions with their peers and form a relationship with our volunteering teams. These took place at Watford Football Club stadium. The space allowed us to follow the two-metre social distancing rules. The training format played an important role in our success. We were very fortunate to have the support of Watford Football Club as, without them, we wouldn’t be able to deliver that essential training in person.
We did our best to measure the impact the volunteers were having, and once again, our friends at Helpforce supported us. The Insight team gave us advice on how to devise questionnaires for volunteers to fill in after their shift, and they helped us analyse the results. The results are fantastic. By the end of June, 90 response volunteers had volunteered 1,600+ hours and helped more than 2,000 non-covid patients with different tasks, such as bringing letters from their loved ones to them, keeping patients company, helping with their meals, providing staff with supplies, delivering medications, etc. The questionnaires gave volunteers the opportunities to share their suggestions, concerns, or any other feedback. Thanks to their effort, we were able to respond to staff requests quickly and give volunteers the right training and guidance so that they felt confident while volunteering on wards and across the hospitals.
No one wanted this pandemic and every person who lost their life was a tragedy. But the community spirit has been a ray of light in this time of darkness. I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the support of our volunteers and our local community. They have been so kind, so positive and generous. They truly have made a huge difference to our Trust.
It feels an honour to be able to support our Trust during the pandemic, knowing that our volunteers have helped staff have well deserved breaks, and given patients the right support when they needed it. I feel lucky to have such a wonderful and understanding team. There were seven of us in the team (including some redeployed staff) and each played an important role. I am glad that we took the time to stop and plan for our next steps. We had regular team meetings to make sure everyone was ok, and we made sure the work shifts were flexible to support each other so that no one felt burnt out.
The response volunteers have shown me that it’s not about quantity but the quality of the roles. Although we had fewer than 100 volunteers, we managed to achieve a lot thanks to the great volunteers, who had a wide range of experiences and knowledge.
We hope to continue to run the response volunteering model which is bringing huge positives to the Trust. We will work towards securing the space for the volunteer hub and staffing, so that staff can help manage and coordinate volunteers. We will work with clinical teams to identify the changing demands as more services and clinics are back up and running.
At the same time, we hope to resume our specialist volunteering schemes, such as End of Life Care and Breastfeeding support groups as they provide vital support to patients and their families.