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Volunteer innovations during Covid-19 by Mark Lever, CEO Helpforce

29th April 2020

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There has been a fantastic response to the call for volunteers across the NHS. So many people have come forward to offer their services either through goods, time or resources. There have been many exciting volunteering initiatives that have demonstrated what can be achieved when we work together.

Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust are responding to the needs of their staff and patients, by taking a phased approach to introducing volunteers on wards with Covid patients. This includes one ward at Chelsea, which is Covid-positive, and one ward at West Middlesex which is not Covid-positive. They are initially offering this role to a small number of experienced volunteers so that they build a cohort of experienced volunteers who can help train and orientate new volunteers. Once this is in place they will promote it more widely and expand the programme into evenings and weekends and to new wards.

The role is different to the regular ward helper role, because their wards have changed in response to the crisis and the needs of patients and staff have changed. Although the ward has Covid positive patients, the nature of the patients and treatments means the risk of infection is less than Intensive Care Units. All staff and volunteers wear the same Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – a surgical blue mask, an apron and some gloves, and sometimes goggles. All volunteers have training and support in place to carry out their duties safely. The health and well being of their volunteers, staff and patients is of paramount importance, and they have conducted a thorough risk assessment of this role and a pilot project to test deployment.

Many of the patients are elderly and some have dementia, but none of the patients are on ventilators. This is because they are either recovering and on their way to being discharged or because they are palliative. Many patients are lonely and will welcome some company. The volunteers are providing essential human contact that is missing because there are no visitors or opportunity for everyday social contact. Similarly the staff welcome the volunteer support. Helpforce supports this initiative and we will continue to champion volunteers and volunteering across the UK during this crisis and beyond.