Can Hospice and Palliative Care Volunteering Survive Covid-19?


As the pandemic developed, many volunteer roles were stood down. Now, with the resurgence of the virus in many countries countless volunteers may have been prevented from volunteering for almost a year. Ros Scott and Leena Pelttari, CoChairs, European Association for Palliative Care (EAPCTask Force on Volunteering, discuss the impact of Covid-19 on volunteering and ask the questions that they hope will become the focus for new research.

Ros Scott and Leena Pelttari, Co-chairs of the EAPC Task Force on Volunteering.

The past year has been extremely challenging, with Covid-19 affecting everyone professionally and personally in so many different ways. It is perhaps unsurprising that our task force meetings have included much discussion on the very significant impact on volunteering. Initially, anecdotal evidence suggested that most hospice and palliative care organisations had asked volunteers to stop volunteering – mainly to protect patients and volunteers.  In addition, many volunteers, because of age, were at increased risk from Covid-19 and either could not, or chose not to, continue volunteering. Findings from research undertaken by Walshe et al. (2020), as part of the international CovPall study give us important insights into the true impact of Covid-19 on volunteering internationally. The study found that 72 per cent of respondents had changed how volunteers were involved, with 68 per cent indicating much lower levels of volunteer involvement. Some organisations, however, found new and creative roles for volunteers – for example in providing telephone and online support to patients and families. (You can watch a video of Professor Catherine Walshe’s presentation of the CovPall study on volunteering at the 11th EAPC World Research Congress).

With the resurgence of the virus in many countries, a majority of volunteers may now have been prevented from volunteering for almost a year. It is possible that even with vaccination programmes, this could continue for some time as organisations evolve into a new future. This leaves us with many questions:

  • Has hospice and palliative care volunteering changed forever?
  • Can volunteering return to previous activities and levels – should it?
  • Will volunteers return?
  • Will there be roles for all volunteers in organisations that have had to restructure services as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic?

Are there opportunities and lessons to be learnt?

Despite the many distressing impacts of Covid-19, it provides hospice and palliative care volunteering (HPC) with a unique opportunity. Many countries have seen a sharp rise in informal volunteering as individuals responded to the needs of vulnerable people within their communities.

  • How can HPC organisations learn from this?
  • How can we build on the new ways of involving volunteers?
  • How do we diversify the age profile of HPC volunteering?
  • How can we retain the experience and commitment of older volunteers, enabling them to remain involved, if they choose not to return to face-to-face volunteering?
  • Where can we find new volunteers?
  • If, as previous research has suggested, volunteers are essential to HPC and to sustainability, what implications does the loss of volunteering have for patients, families and organisations?
  • What can we learn from those organisations that continued to involve volunteers? (For example: this inspiring account from St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne, UK.

Many of the questions above – and more – were explored at our Open Task Force Meeting at the EAPC World Research Congress Online on 7 October 2020. It was encouraging to see the excellent attendance at the meeting. Discussions focused on two key questions:

  • What are the key research questions for volunteering today in order to inform future development?
  • Are there opportunities for research collaborations?

The first question produced an extensive list of topics and the answer to the second question was a clear ‘yes’!

We are delighted that there has been international interest from researchers in collaborating. We have held two Zoom meetings and are now in the process of developing a new research study led by Professor Catherine Walshe to explore the impact of Covid-19 on volunteering one year on. If you are a researcher interested in being part of this project, please email either Ros ( or Leena (, who will be happy to give more information.


(2020) Walshe, C., Bradshaw, A., Cripps, R., Fraser, L., Bajwah, S., Dunleavy, L., Hocaoglu, M., Maddocks, M., Murtagh,F., Oluyase, A., Preston, N., Higginson, I., on behalf of the CovPall study team. 11th EAPC Word Research Congress: Online. 7-9 October.  Abstracts from the 11th EAPC World Research Congress. Watch a video of the presentation here.

Read the series on Palliative Care and Volunteering and Coronavirus and Palliative Care on the EAPC blog. With grateful thanks to the Guest Writers who contributed to this series: Ritva Pihlaja, Mirja Sisko Anttonen (Finland), Chiara Caraffa (Italy), Sabine van der Hoorn (Belgium). Also, Leena Pelttari (Austria) and Ros Scott (Scotland, UK) who contributed to and coordinated the series on behalf of the EAPC Task Force on Volunteering.


  • Follow Ros on Twitter @RoscRos
  • Follow Leena on Twitter @LeenaPelttari
  • European Association for Palliative Care Task Force on Volunteering web page.

Please help us to advocate for the support, recognition, promotion and development of volunteering in hospice and palliative care by signing The EAPC Madrid Charter on Volunteering in Hospice and Palliative Care.


EXPLORE NEW DIMENSIONS  17th  EAPC World Congress Online  #EAPC2021 – interactive live sessions 6 to 8 October 2021.

This entry was posted in Coronavirus and palliative care, EAPC Task Forces/Reference Groups, VOLUNTEERING IN PALLIATIVE CARE and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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