Pandemic highlights importance of end of life volunteering support

21st October 2021

End of life care report cover

MORE than 1,000 patients, families and carers received end of life care support from volunteers, thanks to collaboration between charities and NHS organisations.

Helpforce, a charity that inspires NHS Trusts work with more volunteers in innovative roles, and end of life charity Marie Curie, announced today the outcome of their collaborative project to increase the number of volunteers supporting patients approaching the end of life.

Today they have published a report that provides insights and key lessons of how new services were set up and delivered during the pandemic. In addition, three service design guides are published with the aim of inspiring other NHS organisations to set up impactful volunteer end of life care services.

The end of life volunteering project, which started pre-pandemic, saw the two organisations working together to provide essential guidance to seven NHS Trusts and Health Boards in the UK to set up or develop their current end of life volunteer-led services. Although some of the Trusts and Health Boards were unable to carry on due to the restrictions during the pandemic, the teams from Helpforce and Marie Curie were able to support the remaining organisations to adapt to the new challenges and change their service models so that volunteers can safely provide the support to patients, families, and carers.

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“Staff on the wards do not always have the amount of time needed to sit and chat with patients. Even if patients have visitors the day can seem long, lonely and overwhelming. Having a companion volunteer service gives our staff peace of mind knowing that people are not alone. It helps us to improve the care we give to our patients, relieves pressure off staff and improves staff wellbeing.” ward sister.

Mark Lever, Helpforce CEO, said: “Almost three in every ten patients in hospital are in their last year of life, yet many of them will die alone on a busy ward, spend long periods on their own, or have little company. This situation was worsened during the pandemic as hospitals and other settings put in place policies that restricted visits, separating patients from families and friends, and volunteers to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Despite all the challenges thrown by the pandemic, with the help of Marie Curie, we were able to support five organisations to mobilise their volunteers to help at least 1,275 patients/ families and carers, with volunteers providing a total of 1,159 hours. We truly believe that this work could have only happened thanks to the partnership with Marie Curie and the organisations that we worked with.”

Andrew Wilson-Mouasher, Marie Curie, Director, National Programmes and Place Based Systems Caring Services, said: “The pandemic has provided the health and care sector with the opportunity to demonstrate how volunteers can support people who are dying or bereaved in different ways. However, it has also shown that there is more to be done to ensure that society recognises the benefits that volunteers can bring to a wide range of health and social care teams.

“We hope the key learnings and resources from this project will encourage more NHS organisations to consider how they can better integrate end-of-life volunteers in the care and support provided to local communities.

“As the end of life charity, we know that with the right service design, focussed on outcomes, and supported by senior leadership, volunteer-led services can deliver real impact to dying people and the bereaved, regardless of setting, or whether in person or virtually.”

This project was funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, The Peter Sowerby Foundation, the Welsh Government, and Marie Curie.

Seven NHS Trusts and Health Boards were part of the project: The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust

  • The Northern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland

  • NHS Borders in Scotland

  • York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • Aneurin Bevan University Health Board

  • Powys Teaching Health Board

  • Hywel Dda University Health Board

Click here to read the full report and access the three service guides.

Notes to the Editor:

Media contacts – for more information or interview requests, please contact:

  • Vy Tran, Communications and Content Manager. M: 07508 77 2844

  • Tracy Barrett, Head of Media, PR and Campaigns, Marie Curie. 0845 073 8699;

NHS & social care organisations - to find out more about end of life volunteer-led services and service design, please contact:

Andrew Wilson-Mouasher – Marie Curie, Director, National Programmes and Place Based Systems Caring Services,

Maeve Hully - Director of Volunteering at Helpforce,

About Helpforce

Helpforce partners with health and care organisations across the UK to accelerate the growth and impact of volunteering. They are an independent not-for-profit innovator, focused on co-creation of volunteering projects with NHS Trusts and systems, and rapidly sharing insights and best practice.

Helpforce was formally established as a Community Interest Company in December 2016. Both its Board and Advisory Council includes leaders from across the NHS, voluntary and wider public sector.

About Marie Curie

Marie Curie is the UK's leading end of life charity. The charity provides essential frontline nursing and hospice care for people with any terminal illness, a free support line and a wealth of information and support on all aspects of dying, death and bereavement. It is the largest charity funder of palliative and end of life care research in the UK. Marie Curie is committed to sharing its expertise to improve quality of care and ensuring that everyone has a good end of life experience. Marie Curie is calling for recognition and sustainable funding of end of life care and bereavement support.

The National Day of Reflection on 23 March 2022 is a day to support the millions of people who’ve been bereaved during the pandemic and to reflect on the lives of the people who have died. Find out more and pledge to take part at

Please note we are 'Marie Curie' (not 'Marie Curie Cancer Care')