IN MY VIEW... VOLUNTEERS CAN PROVIDE THE VITAL HUMAN TOUCH
THIRTY years ago, I became medical director of a hospice. Many of our patients were elderly, all were in the last days of their lives and a proportion had few or no visitors.
We wanted to ensure our patients spent their final days pain-free, but also comforted. However, the nurses and doctors would not always have the time to sit and talk, so I encouraged the formation of a group of volunteers to do this. It worked very well, and the volunteers and patients formed significant bonds that, at that time in the patient’s life, meant so much.
Our volunteers became a vital cog of the function of the hospice and were greatly valued in that charitably-funded organisation.
Surely now volunteers are more important to the NHS than ever. In my early days as a hospital doctor, we didn’t have ultrasound, CT, MRI scanning and other technologies now considered routine. But what we had then — but don’t have now — is time. Most junior doctors were constantly in the building (we lived in), and we had the time to see everyone under our care at least once or twice daily. There were more nurses on each ward, too. Patients rarely lacked attention — clinical or social.
While technological and other advances have transformed medicine over the past 20 years, what is missing is the human touch which cannot be provided by overwhelmed medical teams.
And that is why I rejoice at the launch of the Mail’s Hospital Helpforce campaign, working with the charity Helpforce, to encourage more people to pledge to volunteer in the NHS.
Volunteers will bring new skills, emotion, warmth and communication — a breath of fresh air to the health service. It is an exciting innovation. We need this.