Volunteers at Berwick Infirmary play an important role in the wellbeing of patients

This month I'd like to focus on the volunteers we have recruited to help brighten up patients' stays here at Berwick Infirmary.

Friday, 22nd July 2016, 15:14 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th July 2016, 16:02 pm

Volunteers play a very important role in our trust and across our organisation. We have more than 800, who generously give their time and carry out a range of roles as part of our very successful Hospital Volunteer Service (HVS).

At our larger hospitals across Northumberland and North Tyneside this includes meeting and greeting patients and visitors at main entrances, and working in our HVS shops, which are located at Wansbeck, Blyth, North Tyneside and the Northumbria hospitals.


Volunteers also assist patients at mealtimes, support mums to breastfeed and facilitate ward activities, which is the role of our new recruits at Berwick.

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It all started with an open day we held at the beginning of the year for people to find out more about helping to improve patients’ experiences of being in community hospitals in Northumberland.

We’re passionate about ensuring our patients have the best possible experience in our hospitals and doing all we can to increase social interaction.

While we have made great strides in this area, we know there is always more we can do, particularly for our elderly patients, and volunteers can play a hugely important role in this.


Simple activities such as chatting with patients about old times, playing cards together or reading out loud can all help to improve patients’ health and wellbeing, have a positive impact on their recovery and help them get better more quickly.

Some of our patients do not have family or friends who live close by to visit them so it really means a lot when someone comes along to spend time with them individually. It gives them a real boost.

Having volunteers who come into hospital specifically to carry out these activities helps structure them and ensure they happen regularly.

We were really pleased that local people got in touch with us and are now spending time with patients on the wards here in Berwick. Rebecca Fairbairn and Ruth McNeely are two of the five volunteers we have.

Rebecca, who’s recently completed a physiotherapy degree in Edinburgh, joined us to have interaction with patients before she starts her new job as a physiotherapist at the Borders General Hospital.

She has been chatting to patients, playing games on an iPad with them and painting the female patients’ nails.

Rebecca, 21, from Eyemouth, said: “With being at university I’ve been concentrating on my studies and before starting my new role I wanted to gain more hands-on experience with patients.

“I’m really enjoying just sitting chatting to the patients and listening to their stories and the different and varied things they’ve done in their lives.

“It’s been fascinating – young people have a lot to learn from the older generation and I’m pleased to have this opportunity to give something back to my local community.”

Former teacher Ruth, 63, chose to volunteer with us after retiring from running a guesthouse in Tweedmouth with her husband.

She’d also had experience of interacting with older people when she visited her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, in a care home and was keen to do that again.

On one of her recent visits she instigated a game of whist for patients on the ward, which was greatly enjoyed.

Grandmother Ruth, who now lives in Spittal, said: “We started off playing around one of the patient’s beds then moved into the day room, which is a beautiful, welcoming space and perfect for activities like this.

“In all, there were five patients playing and we had a great time and as it was lunchtime when we finished, the patients all stayed in the day room and ate together.

“They were all chatting and it was like they were relaxing in a café, which was lovely.

“It gives me a nice feeling to know that I’m helping people in a small way by brightening their stays in hospital.

“I know it can sometimes feel like a long day when you’re in hospital, particularly if you don’t have family or friends who live close-by and can visit, and I’m pleased to be able to make a difference.”

What Ruth describes is exactly the type of thing we’d like our volunteers to be involved in and it’s fantastic to hear of the positive impact it’s having on our patients.

If there’s anyone reading this who would like to get involved, please ring our volunteer service on 0191 203 1511 or email volunteers@northumbria.nhs.uk

Our Macmillan Support Service, which we run in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Care, is also looking for volunteers to offer support to people who are going through cancer, life-limiting illness or those who have been recently bereaved.

The Macmillan Support Service supports adults over 18 across Northumberland who have been affected by bereavement, cancer or a life-limiting illness, their families and carers.

Here on our oncology day unit at Berwick Infirmary, we have volunteers who provide emotional support and we are looking to increase the number of volunteers to develop emotional and social groups for patients and carers and one-to-one support in the bereavement and befriending service.

For more information about the service or the volunteering opportunities available, please contact our Northumberland team on 01670 855533 or email macmillan.supportnorthumberland@northumbria-healthcare.nhs.uk

For both of these volunteering roles full training will be given.

Before I sign off for another month, I’d like to thank everyone who came along to our sessions earlier this month to see our updated plans for our new Berwick hospital.

It was great to hear that local people supported them and we continue to work towards submitting a planning application to Northumberland County Council in the autumn.

As you know, our front line staff here in Berwick have been involved throughout this process to ensure that the best possible environment is provided for our patients.

As part of this we’ve been holding sessions with our clinical teams to discuss detailed plans for the rooms.

These have been progressing very well and we expect them to be complete within the next month.