Hywel Dda University Health Board’s flagship Volunteering for Health programme was ten years old in October. Volunteers, staff, partners and supporters came together to celebrate with stories, balloons and cake.

Today all Health Boards in Wales have their volunteering programmes. It is well accepted that volunteers have a role to play in addressing the social, practical and emotional needs of patients and that this can enable staff to perform the requirements of their roles more effectively.   But back in 2006, when discussions about volunteering within Hywel Dda began, this was not so.

Anna Tee, Patient Experience manager at the time, described the ad hoc nature of volunteering that existed 13 years ago, with just 39 volunteers spread across the Trust, and the vision that she and others shared for a more strategic and better supported programme.  Such a vision could not be realised without a great deal of consultation and listening to feedback – especially the uncertainties and doubts that were expressed. It also needed the active support of partners including local county voluntary councils and the determination to persist when the earliest funding bids were turned down.

Clarity, support and momentum all grew and a successful funding bid to the National Lottery in 2008 allowed the development of volunteering in to what we celebrate today.

In ten years, 2,500 volunteers have volunteered 356,819 hours of their time to the NHS in Hywel Dda UHB. They are involved in many different ways including as befrienders on the wards, meeting and greeting in outpatients,  pharmacy runs to collect medication before patient discharge, helping in the A and E department, children’s  wards, chemo day unit and in the garden,   supporting the chaplaincy and patients with a learning disability.

David Fretwell, Volunteering Manager said ‘there has been a big cultural change over the years.  Staff are now used to having volunteers around and they are regarded as part of the team. This is perhaps one of the most outstanding achievements’.

Lisa Marshall is a Ward Sister in Withybush hospital where volunteers join the Frailty Worker to provide craft and therapeutic activity for patients with dementia. ‘Volunteers are fascinated by what goes on on the Ward’ she said. ‘There are many examples of volunteers who develop a taste for the role, going on to obtain employment as a health care worker then to study and return as a qualified nurse. And volunteers are very good at finding out relevant facts about a patient’s home background, like whether there are stairs, pets or local facilities. This is really useful for clinical staff’.

One important way in which volunteers make a difference is by adding a touch of normality to what is otherwise an alien experience for patients.   Volunteers with the team of play specialists, for example, help with designing display boards to create a child friendly environment, keeping toys clean and tidy and also spending time with children to give parents a respite break.  Sandra Jones, Head of the therapeutic play services said ‘Volunteers are making a difference to the way we work and to the children and young people that come into contact with’.

David Fretwell recalled a patient in hospital over Christmas, whose relatives were unable to get in to see them. A volunteer was the only visitor they had all day.  ‘It is the small things that make the biggest difference to people, like being interested in their lives.  The impact is in the smile. We can’t measure it adequately’

For more information see   the Volunteering for Health web pages.