Measuring the impact of volunteer Dining Companions assisting patients at mealtimes - Insight & Impact service case study

Tags: Case Study, I&I

1st September 2021



Salford volunteer

Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust

The challenge…

Staff at Salford Care Organisation (Salford, part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust) recognised that patient recovery is delayed by poor nutrition and hydration which could potentially be reduced by the provision of increased levels of support during mealtimes.

A mealtime support service involving volunteers, designed with, and quality assured by, the Trust’s dietetic staff and speech and language therapists (SALT) was introduced to help reduce the risk of malnutrition and dehydration amongst vulnerable patients. Staff risk-assess each patient and, where appropriate, volunteers act as ‘trained family members’ who assist patients in the following ways:

  • Ensuring that food and drink is suitably accessible

  • Providing encouragement and assistance with eating and drinking (including special diets)

  • Providing companionship with dignity and respect at mealtimes.

As part of the Volunteering Innovators Programme (VIP) Helpforce was invited to work with Salford to help understand the impact that volunteers in this ‘Dining Companion’ role are delivering for patients, staff and the trust.

Our approach…

Between September 2018 and March 2021, Helpforce worked closely with key stakeholders from Salford to design and implement a methodology for gathering insights and recording impact that would align with the Trust’s need for continuous improvement in the service and contribute to further development of the VIP volunteering evidence base.

Our Insight & Impact (I&I) approach combined three key elements:

  1. Co-design of an outcomes model setting out links between activities, intermediate outcomes and ultimate goals related to the service

  2. Development of an I&I approach plan setting out key information about the service, its objectives, prioritised outcomes for measurement, research questions and the metrics to be used to record impact (including bespoke metrics tailored to the needs of the Trust as well as more generic metrics used across all VIP sites).

  3. Ongoing support with implementation of the I&I plan and assistance with data collection and analysis, working alongside the Trust's project lead and their own information Support Team.

The outcome…

By the end of the VIP programme, Salford had eighty-five Dining Companions operating across eight hospital wards. On wards where these dining companions were active:

Original eval findings

Working with Helpforce to implement a robust I&I approach for the service enabled Salford to develop an evidence base to help strengthen the case for investment in volunteering. As a direct result of the work Salford and Helpforce completed, the volunteering team received funding for a Dining Companion Coordinator on a 6 months trial basis to manage continued Dining Companions support for patients.

Continued evaluation…

Following the conclusion of the VIP project, Salford and Helpforce continued to work together to evaluate the impact of the dining companions role. Between September 2021 and January 2022, patient and staff data collection was continued, resulting in further positive findings…

New eval findings

The full evaluation report was shared with key stakeholders across the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust. Senior Leadership members were so impressed by the positive impact volunteers were having for staff and patients that they provided even further funding.

Making the case…

Following a business case process, using the evidence from the Helpforce Evaluation, the Dining Companion Coordinator post at Salford was secured and an additional 3 Dining Companion Coordinators were funded to support the roll out of the volunteer service across the remaining 3 care organisations: Bury, Rochdale and Oldham. Later that year, additional funding was once again provided for an additional Dining Companion Coordinator post at Salford to support the increasing demand for volunteer support within the care organisation.

Next steps…

Helpforce continues to work alongside the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust to evaluate the impact of the Dining Companions role as it expanded across all of the care organisations. We are also working with the Trust to explore clinical indicators of impact for patients who have received Dining Companion support, such as fluid intake, length of stay and MUST scores.

For more information on how you can receive evaluation support from the Insight and Impact service, please visit our website.

If you are interested to know more about the Dining Companions role, there are some helpful resources below…