Background The Hospice Day Therapy Unit (DTU) provides specialist outpatient palliative care to patients living with life-limiting illnesses. Volunteers play an integral role in delivering this service (by socialising with patients, providing emotional support and facilitating group activities) but receive little formal teaching (Burbeck, Low, Sampson, Bravery et al., 2014; Help the Hospices Commission into the Future of Hospice Care, 2012).
Aims We aimed to set up a volunteer teaching programme with three objectives: 1) to provide education and training, 2) to provide a forum for discussion and 3) to demonstrate the extent to which volunteers are valued by the hospice.
Methods We designed and distributed questionnaires to DTU volunteers (n=23) to establish: 1) whether they were interested receiving teaching from clinical staff, 2) where and when these sessions should take place and 3) potential teaching topics. Data from 13 completed questionnaires (response rate 57%) were used to develop our programme; hour-long sessions are held in DTU every other Tuesday evening.
Results All completed questionnaires indicated interest in receiving teaching. The six most requested topics were (volunteers could specify multiple options): 1) common medical conditions (n=9), 2) common symptoms and their management (n=8), 3) roles of staff members (n=7), 4) ethics (n=7), 5) Parkinson’s disease (n=5) and 6) layperson management of panic and breathlessness (n=5). The teaching programme has now been running for three months. Six sessions have been delivered so far by a range of speakers from the hospice multidisciplinary team with a mean attendance of 9 volunteers (range 8–10).
Conclusion Feedback to date has been universally positive. Volunteers described sessions as ‘very interesting and informative’ and felt ‘at ease to join in discussions’. One volunteer commented that a session ‘changed my understanding of what I can do for a patient as a volunteer’. Ongoing evaluation will allow assessment of whether the programme improves volunteers’ confidence and increases volunteer retention in the longer term.
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