When it comes to vol­un­teer­ing ALL of us can be good Sa­mar­i­tans

In a heart­felt and up­lift­ing mes­sage in sup­port of the Mail’s Christ­mas cam­paign, a lead­ing cleric says...

Scottish Daily Mail - - Com­ment - by Rt Rev Anne Dyer Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney

FIVE years ago I had a course of chemo­ther­apy in a can­cer ward at the Western Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Ed­in­burgh. It was a bustling out-pa­tient de­part­ment filled daily by peo­ple at a low and fright­en­ing point in their lives.

Rather as ex­pected, I was greatly im­pressed by the dili­gence of the med­i­cal staff who were com­pletely oc­cu­pied with the treat­ment of the pa­tients. Their du­ties had to be car­ried out with enor­mous care and of­ten un­der in­creas­ing de­mands on their time.

Be­cause chemo­ther­apy pa­tients like me were there for most of the day, we had a clear idea of the kinds of shifts these doc­tors and nurses were work­ing. They were there to re­ceive us early in the morn­ing and of­ten stayed un­til the last treat­ment was com­pleted early in the evening.

Time passes slowly for pa­tients re­ceiv­ing this gru­elling treat­ment. Yet, such was the scale of their work­load, the staff of­ten seemed in a con­stant race against time. Thank heav­ens, then, for the other team of car­ers in our midst – the vol­un­teers pre­pared to donate their time to eas­ing the bur­den of pa­tients and hos­pi­tal work­ers alike.

When I was at the Western Gen­eral, vol­un­teers reg­u­larly vis­ited the ward, bring­ing re­fresh­ments, lunch and, just as im­por­tantly, a cheer­ful smile. Oth­ers would give com­ple­men­tary care. I re­mem­ber some pa­tients tak­ing up their of­fers of a mas­sage or ex­er­cises in mind­ful­ness to help re­duce their stress lev­els.

An­other group of vol­un­teers ran an ex­cel­lent hos­pi­tal café, which acted as a meet­ing point for pa­tients and their fam­ily and friends. Oth­ers vol­un­teered to drive peo­ple re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy to and from the hos­pi­tal. For those on their own, with­out trans­port, feel­ing de­bil­i­tated and very poorly, just imag­ine the dif­fer­ence this sim­ple act of kind­ness made to them.

The fi­nal group of vol­un­teers were those who came to the hos­pi­tal just to of­fer a lis­ten­ing ear, not only to pa­tients but to their fam­ily mem­bers or car­ers.

As I know from ex­pe­ri­ence, dis­cov­er­ing that you are poorly and work­ing through the con­se­quences in your head is fright­en­ing and usu­ally dif­fi­cult to talk about. The story of this un­set­tling dis­cov­ery and how it has made you feel can take some time to tell, but talk­ing about it is im­por­tant.

How won­der­fully well those trained vol­un­teers gave of their time and lis­tened. How com­fort­ing their wis­dom and the fre­quency with which they were able to give ex­actly the right ad­vice at the right time.

It is with these painful yet in­spir­ing mem­o­ries in mind that I of­fer my whole­hearted en­dorse­ment of the cam­paign by the scot­tish Daily Mail and the char­ity Help­force to en­cour­age peo­ple to vol­un­teer in the NHs.

In­deed, as we won­der what gifts to buy this Christ­mas, I can think of no bet­ter one than the gift of your time, how­ever lit­tle or much of it you may have to of­fer.

For some it may be three hours a week, for oth­ers an eight-hour day per month, for six months per­haps.

Thus far the re­sponse from read­ers has been fan­tas­tic, with al­most 20,000 peo­ple across Bri­tain pledg­ing more than a mil­lion hours of their time over the next six months.

But, as a church­woman who has ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand the gen­eros­ity of NHs vol­un­teers, it seems to me I should do all I can to keep this tidal wave of kind­ness grow­ing.

Nowa­days I live in Aberdeen and, I am happy to re­port, I am presently well. My fre­quent vis­its to Aberdeen Royal In­fir­mary are in a pas­toral ca­pac­ity rather than a per­sonal one. But when­ever I go there I am moved by the con­tri­bu­tion of vol­un­teers.

For those who have never been there, it is like a maze in­side. There are coloured stripes painted on the floor to help you find your way but I still man­age to get lost nearly every time. some of the vol­un­teers are sim­ply there to di­rect peo­ple to the right place.

That may sound al­most in­signif­i­cant in the scheme of kind­nesses, but when of­fered to some­one who has come for an ap­point­ment or treat­ment and does not want to be late or suf­fer the anx­i­ety of be­ing lost, it is very wel­come in­deed.

As in Ed­in­burgh, vol­un­teers help pa­tients with trans­port or serve re­fresh­ments. some help with ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks, com­ple­men­tary treat­ments or cre­ative ac­tiv­i­ties such as mu­sic ther­apy.

But how­ever they choose to con­trib­ute, their time is al­ways highly val­ued.

The rea­son for that, as my own ex­pe­ri­ence of the NHs in Ed­in­burgh brought home to me, is vol­un­teers dra­mat­i­cally change the ex­pe­ri­ence of hos­pi­tal – both for pa­tients and car­ers.

They make it more per­sonal; they calm nerves by show­ing that they are not in a hurry; they have the time to stay and help how­ever they can.

No one needs me to point out that the NHs is hard-pressed for re­sources. Med­i­cal staff in­volved in pa­tient care work with high de­mand and long wait­ing lists. Their ex­per­tise is re­quired for lev­els of treat­ment which can only be of­fered by pro­fes­sion­als.

sim­i­larly they must take time to ex­plain both ill­nesses and treat­ments to pa­tients be­cause only they are qual­i­fied to do so. But this leaves lit­tle time for the smaller tasks re­lat­ing

to pa­tient care. It is these tasks which vol­un­teers can pick up on be­half of the NHS and which really can make all the dif­fer­ence to a pa­tient’s ex­pe­ri­ence in hos­pi­tal.

Why, some might ask, do we need vol­un­teers so badly to­day? Older read­ers may re­mem­ber the days when hos­pi­tal nurses had plenty of time to spend with pa­tients, when lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries and do­ing their best to cheer them up was all part of the job.

But times have changed, de­mands on staff have be­come more se­vere and some­thing of this very per­sonal level of ser­vice has been lost.

There are a num­ber of rea­sons: the pop­u­la­tion is age­ing and liv­ing longer. Geri­atric care has be­come more com­plex and costly. Ad­vances in medicine have al­lowed many more con­di­tions to be treated, with in­creas­ingly costly drugs and pro­ce­dures. This is es­pe­cially the case with can­cer treat­ment.

Some prob­lems, such as men­tal health con­di­tions, are on the in­crease – or, at least, are be­ing re­ferred for med­i­cal treat­ment much more of­ten.

All of this, in­evitably, places ever greater de­mand on re­sources.

No one sees these chal­lenges eas­ing any time soon. Let us as­sume, then, that there will al­ways be a gap be­tween what the coun­try can af­ford and the care that we would like to see of­fered.

Vlim­ited OL­UN­TEERS, in ever greater num­bers thanks to the Mail’s cam­paign, are help­ing to fill that gap. They are work­ing with the re­al­ity of a sit­u­a­tion as it presents it­self right now in can­cer wards, chil­dren’s hos­pi­tals, geri­atric care units and de­part­ments through­out the NHS. It is not the bal­ance sheets of NHS boards they have re­gard for but the in­di­vid­ual lives of pa­tients.

Our ill­nesses do not wait. They can­not be de­ferred un­til the next fi­nan­cial year. Vol­un­teer sup­port makes a dif­fer­ence on the day that really mat­ters – to­day.

There is some­thing else that oc­curred to me as I at­tended my chemo­ther­apy ses­sions and wit­nessed the acts of kind­ness given freely for no other rea­son than a de­sire to lighten oth­ers’ load.

And it oc­curs to me now as thou­sands more join this most al­tru­is­tic of cam­paigns every day.

The peo­ple do­ing so are mod­ern day dis­ci­ples of one of the most res­o­nant fig­ures in the Bi­ble.

In Luke’s Gospel, chap­ter 10, verses 25-37, Je­sus tells the story of the man who was robbed on the road and left for dead. Two re­li­gious peo­ple walk by but both pass on the other side.

Next to come along the road was a Sa­mar­i­tan, tra­di­tional en­emy of the Jews to whom Je­sus was re­lat­ing the story.

It was he who stopped, tended to the in­jured man’s wounds, took him to a lo­cal inn and paid for him to be cared for there.

Yes, the Good Sa­mar­i­tan was gen­er­ous with his money. But, more im­por­tantly, he do­nated his time to help some­one who was suf­fer­ing. He took time out from his daily busi­ness to of­fer his com­pas­sion.

The par­al­lels with to­day’s NHS vol­un­teers, whether they are re­li­gious peo­ple or not, are both ob­vi­ous and com­pelling. In faith com­mu­ni­ties, of course, we are used to work­ing with vol­un­teers.

A church might have a full or a part-time min­is­ter but ev­ery­thing else is done by vol­un­teers and, through our in­ter­ac­tion with them, we learn all about how vol­un­teer­ing works.

Peo­ple give of their time, en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity when they be­lieve in some­thing. They vol­un­teer when they think the thing they are do­ing, how­ever big or small, really mat­ters.

Some give to those things where they can see a dif­fer­ence straight away; oth­ers give be­cause they can see the ‘big pic­ture’ – know­ing that they are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence even if, in the here and now, it may be dif­fi­cult to see how their con­tri­bu­tion fits in.

In churches, this vol­un­teer­ing comes out of the de­sire both to love God and to love our neigh­bours. Many vol­un­teers visit the el­derly, help in food banks or run com­mu­nity lunches or drop-in cen­tres.

Of those join­ing the NHS vol­un­teer cam­paign, many may do it to ex­press love for God too. For oth­ers, God may not be part of the equa­tion. But in lend­ing a hand, in giv­ing their time, they most cer­tainly show love for their neigh­bour.

They are show­ing their hu­man­ity just as the Sa­mar­i­tan did. And it is no less in­spir­ing, no less glo­ri­ous in the present day than two mil­len­nia ago.

THOSE who would like to vol­un­teer can start the ball rolling by fill­ing out a form on­line. Ap­pro­pri­ate checks will fol­low and there­after in­di­vid­u­als will be matched with lo­cal NHS boards. Vol­un­teer tasks will be al­lo­cated and, where nec­es­sary, train­ing will be given.

No vol­un­teer is ex­pected to serve with­out over­sight, so there will be proper re­la­tion­ships of ac­count­abil­ity.

It is, after all, vi­tal that the NHS looks after its vol­un­teer force well be­cause these gifts of time and ser­vice are in­dis­pens­able.

So, as Christ­mas ap­proaches, how about adding an­other name to your gift list – that of the NHS.

And, if you do, con­sider that your present is not so much for a health ser­vice.

It is for the el­derly lady down the road who may need a lift to her ap­point­ment. It is for the gen­tle­man with de­men­tia who may need some­one to talk to. It is for the fam­ily mem­bers who may need a cup of tea while vis­it­ing their poorly rel­a­tive.

Vol­un­teer­ing will change the way a dif­fi­cult day goes for those fac­ing the chal­lenges of ill health.

Could you be their Good Sa­mar­i­tan?

Vi­tal work: Rt Rev Anne Dyer, pic­tured chat­ting to one of her parish­ioners, top, is urg­ing Scots to draw in­spi­ra­tion from the Good Sa­mar­i­tan, above, and vol­un­teer to help the NHS

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