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Palliative care volunteer roles in Nordic countries: qualitative studies—systematic review and thematic synthesis


Background Given limited palliative care resources, volunteers can be viewed as essential. To better understand the contribution of volunteers, it is useful to look at their roles in care systems with high level of financed public welfare, such as those found in Nordic countries.

Aim To develop research-based knowledge of experiences related to volunteer roles in palliative care in Nordic countries with similar welfare systems.

Design Systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies.

Data sources Cinahl, APA PsycInfo, SocINDEX, Idunn, Cristin, SwePub, SweMed+, Doria and Danish Research Database from 2005 to 2020.

Eligibility criteria Qualitative peer-reviewed studies reporting first-hand experience of volunteers in palliative care in hospital, community (homecare and nursing home) and hospice settings (hospice institution and hospice home care); English abstract and available full text.

Results Of 1521 citations, 11 articles were included in the review: seven Norwegian articles, three Swedish articles and one Danish article. Three overall themes emerged from analysis: (1) volunteers offered something different than professionals, (2) volunteering took place in professionals’ domain, (3) volunteers were motivated by personal gains.

Conclusion Volunteers provide valuable support to patients and next of kin that differs from professionals’ support. Volunteers are motivated by direct interaction with patients and next of kin. Opportunities for interactions depend on the healthcare setting and professionals’ understandings of volunteers’ role. Formal training of volunteers is limited and supportive available professionals important to volunteers. Professionals’ understandings of volunteers’ role should be improved to strengthen volunteers’ role in palliative care in Nordic countries.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42020222695.

  • home care
  • social care
  • nursing home care
  • hospice care
  • supportive care

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Not applicable.

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