Issue 1 of The Camberwell Clarion

Page 17


What you give is what you get The volunteers at King’s College Hospital are there to make patient and visitor experiences better. Petula Storey, who heads up the volunteering and community participation programme at the NHS trust, shares some insights from the volunteering frontline BY LAURA DAY At King’s College Hospital, the “orange army” is out in force. They’re the hospital’s volunteers, easily identifiable by their bright orange uniforms. They’re there to meet and greet visitors, direct patients to where they need to be, befriend inpatients, be a link to the outside world, chat at bedsides, help with mealtimes, pass on messages from loved ones – and much more in-between. “Our remit is about improving patient and visitor experience,” says Petula Storey, head of volunteering and community participation at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. “Volunteers do so much good, and when you speak to them you see there’s so much they get out of it. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial experience.” Petula has worked in her role at King’s for six years, helping to shape, grow and develop the volunteering programme at one of London’s largest NHS trusts. “One of the reasons I love working at King’s is even though it’s one of the biggest trusts in London, it feels very much like a community.” Petula originally trained as an engineer, but after a couple of years in the industry, she moved into the volunteering sector, working in volunteer-delivered services. When she spent a short time living in the US and had a personal experience of healthcare there, it made her appreciate the NHS even more. “Everyone values the NHS very much, and I did before going to live in the States. But when I came back I realised how much we sometimes take it for granted, and that if there was an opportunity to go into the NHS, I would.” Then, six years ago, an opportunity arose. “I thought it would be great to use the skills that I already had gained in volunteer support, but with the challenge of a different sector,” she says. Now Petula looks after the volunteering programme across King’s sites in Denmark Hill, Princess Royal University Hospital in Bromley, Orpington Hospital and Beckenham Beacon, doing anything from training and recruiting volunteers and forming partnerships with charities, to thinking strategically about how the programme can keep improving.


The reasons why people choose to volunteer with King’s are varied, but Petula says the majority come because they’re looking for a career in healthcare – and not just first careers, but second and third career moves too. There are also personal motivations. “A lot of volunteers come because there is a personal connection to King’s. Maybe they’ve been a patient themselves or volunteers have helped their family members. There’s some sort of community connection that people want to engage with.” Because of the interest in professional development, nearly 70% of King’s volunteer base are under 25. “That surprises a lot of people. We’ve always had younger people, but our percentage has probably been around 60%. That has suddenly grown during the pandemic.” She adds: “I’m very proud of the diversity of our volunteer base; it’s very reflective of the community we serve. We very much want to be in the community, but also to bring the community to us. Volunteering matches up that need.” Petula’s volunteers kept going through the pandemic, albeit in different roles, and away from the wards. “One of the things I’m incredibly proud of is the fact that we had volunteers on site, apart from two weeks, for the whole of the last two years.” There were several key supporting roles that the volunteers fulfilled in the first phase of the pandemic. “We were front of house, helping with hand hygiene and masks. We helped with staff wellbeing hubs, which were set up to support staff if they want to talk, or get teas and coffees. “We very kindly got lots of donations from the public, so volunteers were helping to make up packs for staff and patients. We also helped with lateral flow testing programmes and with the initial setup of the vaccination clinics. And when families would drop off patients’ personal items, we would take them up to the wards.” Volunteers have been more or less back to normal duties since February last year, with support in emergency departments restarting in the last couple of months. They have been particularly vital now patients are visiting King’s from other parts of the

country for its specialist services. “It’s been even more crucial to have our volunteers on site,” says Petula. “They are supporting people who perhaps don’t get the visitors as much.” In the six months since April 2021, volunteers on site have contributed a staggering 21,000 hours – and in monetary terms, she adds, volunteer hours are worth millions of pounds to NHS trusts around the UK. Whatever the figure, the impact for patients is often priceless. She says that volunteers often say what they do is “small stuff. In fact it’s not small.” From helping someone’s dad learn how to FaceTime so they can talk to their family, or transporting someone in a wheelchair, Petula says it means so much to patients and their families. “There are lots of little moments where patients or families are really grateful.” She describes how a few years ago a volunteer sat with a patient at their bedside to relieve the family. “Sadly the patient passed away. Within 24 to 48 hours the family had very kindly written a note and personally came to drop it off, which was completely unexpected. They were in the middle of grieving and they chose to come and say thank you for what we’d done to help.” While volunteers are there to support patients, Petula says the volunteers need support too. The programme is now working with the British Red Cross to deliver a support service for volunteers over Zoom. “The partnership is a first for a volunteer service in the NHS. We realise how important it is to take care of our volunteers’ wellbeing. If we take care of them and provide them with the skills and support for their emotional and physical resilience, they are able to better support our patients.” The trust forms partnerships with other charities to upskill their own volunteers, such as Pets As Therapy,

There are lots of little moments when patients or families are really grateful

Above: Gloria Chast Achiaa, Faye Bedding, Alice Ibiam, Roger Engwell and Luke Palmer from King’s College Hospital PHOTO BY JULIA HAWKINS

which assesses whether volunteers’ dogs are suitable to bring on site for patient and staff wellbeing. Other partnerships use specialist volunteers for specific patient needs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, whose volunteers talk to patients who have concerns about their alcohol consumption. Given the huge interest from volunteers in working in healthcare, the trust is currently putting together a work experience programme. “We’re really excited about it,” Petula says. “It’s about what we can do for the community, knowing that not everybody necessarily gets the opportunity to understand what they could make of their life. If we could play a small part in opening doors and people’s eyes to what they could be, we’re really keen to do that.” Because the current volunteer workforce is a lot younger and in school and college during the week, Petula wants to encourage people in their 30s and upwards to come forward for just four hours a week. She’s hoping that with the rise in flexible working patterns, more people can come either before they start their work day or spare their midday breaks across the week to come and support patients. “You’ll be a significant piece of the jigsaw, working alongside staff and helping assist in improving patients’ experience in our care,” she says. For Petula, the pleasure of her role is simple. “I love the fact that for the most part I’m in one place, so to speak, which allows me to engage. It’s being on the ground, meeting and engaging with our volunteers, finding out the difference they are able to make, and hearing the difference that volunteering is making to them.” For more information and to get involved, visit