Dr Sara Morris, Senior Researcher, International Observatory on End of Life Care, Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, UK.
Volunteers are integral to the history of hospices and continue to play a vital role. However, economic, policy and demographic challenges in the twenty-first century raise questions about how best to manage this essential resource. I am currently part of a team of researchers looking into this issue in a two-year research project, called Volunteer Management in Palliative Care, which aims to examine the specific challenges of involving volunteers in roles that require direct contact with patients or their families.
Research projects have a certain rhythm, which I always enjoy because of the variety of activities and sense of unfolding learning. This study has several phases and we are now well into the data collection stage. However, at the beginning of the study I was responsible for conducting a wide-ranging literature search into volunteers in end of life care. This helped provide a context for our study and, as a bonus, has been published online in Palliative Medicine.1 We are delighted to share these findings with the wider palliative care community and hope it will aid hospices in considering and planning for volunteer involvement in end of life care.
The purpose of the review was to take in as wide a range of research and recommendations as possible, and hence we set our parameters very wide with the aim of capturing some of the nuances of contemporary volunteer involvement. We included 68 articles that had been published between 2000 and 2011. This was a narrative review and aimed primarily at raising awareness and promoting discussion.
We found two main interlinked themes in the literature. The first related to individual volunteer factors, such as motivation, characteristics of volunteers, stress and coping, role boundaries and value. The second was to do with organisational factors, such as recruiting for diversity, support and training and the volunteers’ place in the system. For those who support and manage volunteers it appears that the most important questions to address are around increasing diversity, a more formal regulation of volunteers and the potential for a wider community involvement.
The article will also be published in a future print issue of Palliative Medicine. The study is led by Professor Sheila Payne of the International Observatory on End of Life Care in collaboration with Nick Ockenden of the Institute for Volunteering Research and is funded by Dimbleby Cancer Care and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
1. Morris S, Wilmot A, Hill M, Ockenden N, Payne S. A narrative literature review of the contribution of volunteers in end-of-life care services Palliat Med, DOI: 10.1177/0269216312453608, first published on July 24, 2012.
Follow the blog on Friday when Ros Scott discusses some topical issues about volunteering in children’s hospices in Scotland.
We’d love to hear more about volunteering in hospices and palliative care services in Europe and beyond. Are you managing or coordinating volunteers, or are you yourself a volunteer in a hospice or palliative care service? If you’d like to contribute please email the editor, or download a copy of our Contributor’s Guidelines.