Dr Sara Morris, Senior Researcher, International Observatory on End of Life Care, Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, UK, explains the background to a longer article that has been selected as ‘Editor’s choice’ in the May edition of Palliative Medicine.
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 part of a team of researchers who have been conducting a research study into volunteering, Volunteer Management in Palliative Care, using a national survey and detailed case studies in English hospices.
The study has several phases and we are now beginning to write up our results. In the first phase I was responsible for conducting a wide-ranging narrative literature review into volunteers in end of life care. This was published online in Palliative Medicine last year and we are delighted that it has been picked as the ‘Editor’s choice’ article for the May 2013 edition of the journal.1
In the case studies we interviewed 205 people in total – staff, volunteers, patients and their family members – at 11 case study sites in England. Spending several days at each site, I encountered warm welcomes and interest in the study. We are analysing the data under four overarching themes: the impact of volunteering; management practice; relationship to the external context; and the role of volunteering in the hospice. Currently, we are organising two workshops to which we are inviting representatives of each participating hospice and policymakers to talk with us about our results and to offer suggestions as to how volunteering can be best managed to improve services for those needing hospice care.
Our study confirms the importance of volunteers to the functioning of hospices. In all those we visited volunteers were seen to provide substantial resources in a range of roles and settings across all services, such as practical support and various levels of psychological and social support. These roles varied from highly skilled roles such as bereavement counsellors, nurse helpers or complementary therapists (involving professionally qualified or specially trained volunteers) to roles that offered ‘added value’ to existing services, such as just ‘chatting’ and ‘being with’ patients, delivering food and drinks or arranging social activities.
The study is designed to provide helpful suggestions for those that manage volunteers and for hospices in general. Our findings will be fed back to policymakers and practitioners and we will also be writing detailed analyses of our findings for publication later this year. We very much hope to be adding to the evidence base on volunteering in hospices and support the development of volunteering in the twenty-first century.
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, 2013 May; 27 (5): 428-436. First published on 24 July 2012, DOI: 10.1177/0269216312453608. (To download a free copy of this paper, please see below).
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Click here to read other posts (including one by Sara Morris), previously published on the EAPC blog, about volunteering in palliative care.
Join us in Prague…
Volunteering in hospice and palliative care is on the agenda at the 13th World Congress of the EAPC, with parallel symposia on 31 May and a full-day workshop on 30 May that includes a meeting to found the EAPC Task Force on Volunteering in Palliative Care. Registration is required for the workshop but some places may still be available. Check the final programme for details.