Urgent need for end of life care volunteers to play a critical role in our NHS say Helpforce and Marie Curie

5th February 2020

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 in hospital or at home. This is set to change with a new collaboration between Helpforce, a charity inspiring NHS Trusts to work with more volunteers in innovative roles, and terminal illness charity Marie Curie.

With funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, The Peter Sowerby Foundation, the Welsh Government, and Marie Curie they are launching seven innovative projects across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will mean more end of life care volunteers working in hospitals and in the community to provide much needed extra support to patients, families and friends, and staff.

The seven projects: The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust; The Northern Trust in Northern Ireland; NHS Borders in Scotland; York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and three projects in Wales, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Powys Teaching Health Board, and Hywel Dda University Health Board, will embed end of life care volunteers in hospitals and in the community. The volunteers will be trained to support terminally ill people and their families, be there for them. They will provide emotional and practical support, companionship and alleviate social isolation, at a very difficult time. They will ensure fewer patients die alone, bring comfort and help relieve the stress and guilt that staff sometimes feel when they can’t be with dying patients as much as they’d like.

Mark Lever, CEO Helpforce, said:

“There is significant untapped potential for volunteers to play a greater role in the NHS, and to better support patients, families, staff and services. The reality for some terminally ill patients is that they will spend a lot of time alone, and face the devastating prospect of dying alone on a hospital ward. Others may have partners or family and friends, but they can often feel overwhelmed and isolated. This is why we are excited about launching these seven projects with Marie Curie. Training more volunteers to support people at the end of their life and their families, will be a positive change in many people’s lives.”

Julie Pearce, Chief Nurse and Marie Curie Executive Director of Quality and Caring Services said: “Bereaved families repeatedly tell us that more needs to be done to improve the experience of dying patients and their loved ones. At the same time, we live in a society where we don’t talk readily about death and dying, and this can have a profound impact on family members who are not well prepared or clear about what is important to the person who is dying. It can create stress and anxiety for everyone involved, including the professionals who support them.

“We should be more open to looking at ways of supporting each other to care for people well. Our own services show how well-trained volunteers supporting patients and families in different care settings can enhance the holistic support provided, as well as reassure staff that their patients are getting the emotional, practical and compassionate support they need and deserve.

“Caring for someone and their family during their final weeks and days of life is both a privilege and a challenge. There is only one opportunity to get the end of life right for people and when it doesn’t go well it can affect a family for many years.”

John Knights, Senior Head of the UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Helpforce recognise the great impact volunteering in hospitals and the community can have, and now with Marie Curie and thanks to National Lottery funding, volunteers will support terminally ill people and their families across the UK. By bringing people together this project will ultimately help reduce isolation and loneliness whilst providing emotional and practical support.”

Notes to the Editor:

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

  • Beth Vaughan, Head of Comms Helpforce bv@helpforce.community T: 07508 769 996, bv@helpforce.community
  • Tracy Barrett, Deputy Head of Media, PR and Campaigns, Marie Curie. T: 0207 599 7292. M: 07994 637761 tracy.barrett@mariecurie.org.uk

About Helpforce

Helpforce is using the power of volunteering to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the UK. It wants to see a recognisable improvement in the range and quality of volunteer roles available to support patient care in hospital and at home.

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

Please note – we are – called ‘Marie Curie’ (not Marie Curie Cancer Care). Marie Curie is the UK’s leading charity for people with any terminal illness. The charity helps people living with a terminal illness and their families make the most of the time they have together by delivering expert hands-on care, emotional support, research and guidance. Marie Curie employs more than 2,700 nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals, and with its nine hospices around the UK, is the largest provider of hospice beds outside the NHS.If you are in need of support, or have any questions about any aspect of terminal illness, call the Marie Curie Information & Support Line free on 0800 090 2309 or visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/help.

About WCVA

Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) is the national membership body for voluntary organisations in Wales. We exist to enable voluntary organisations in Wales to make a bigger difference together. WCVA is providing support to the End of Life projects in Wales.