3 August 2015 17:21

Hospices should think more strategically about the role of volunteers in developing links with communities.

Researchers at the International Observatory on End of Life Care at Lancaster University, together with the Institute for Volunteering Research, have undertaken a study examining the part volunteers play in end-of-life care (EOLC) hospices in England.

The team found that 28% of people cited the impact of volunteers when speaking about the relationship between the hospice and the wider community, such as:

-          Contributing to the community atmosphere within the hospice;

-          Helping to promote the services of the hospice within the community;

-          And acting as ambassadors for fundraising within the community.

Respondents often highlighted the importance of volunteers creating a sense of normality within hospices for those staying there, as well as bringing outside news into the hospice.

One person said: “They also bring the community into the building and I think that’s perhaps important for patients. They bring normality; they bring a change of conversation away from the focus on the illness.”

Their findings also show how the management of volunteers in hospices has been changing as there has been a move away from informal, ‘family-like’ volunteering to more ‘professional’ volunteering.

Now the team is calling for hospices to maximise the use of volunteers in their unique capacity to bring the hospice closer to the community, by:

-          Better defining volunteers’ roles as ambassadors in the community;

-          Engaging with communities to create services that better meet local needs;

-          Engaging with seldom-heard communities.

Dr Sara Morris, of the Department of Health Research, explained: “As well as the need for greater regulation coming from national health policy, shifting patterns in the nature and extent of volunteering are affecting hospices.  

“We found that EOLC organisations are anxious to retain the ‘spirit’ of the hospice, while also keeping in step with these changes.

“We believe that one way to tackle this would be for hospices to develop the strategic aspects of volunteering through greater community engagement.”

The team conducted in-depth case studies in 11 hospices in England, interviewing over 200 people – volunteers, staff, patients and their families – about their experiences of EOLC organisations.

The hospice movement in England started in the 1960s and although many individual organisations were founded through local fundraising, they can be somewhat detached from their local community and health care services .

The research, which was funded by Marie Curie and Dimbleby Cancer Care, can be found in full here.