How volunteers can help patients across Lancaster and Morecambe during their stay in hospital

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Recent statistics showed that 59 per cent of hospital patients said they felt physically and emotionally healthier after support from volunteers.

It’s an important stepping stone which helps patients improve their fitness before being allowed to return home.

Grainne Moon.

Grainne Moon.

Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) data shows improved mobility among participants and additionally, 72 per cent of patients improved on the ’30 second sit to stand test’ as a result of the exercise classes run by volunteers in the community.

On ward, volunteers helping with exercise will prioritise patients who are most likely to have a fall, with trust staff helping to identify these patients.

Volunteers will work more intensively with these patients and at the point of discharge, connect them to community provision.

In the community, participants consist of a mix of those who have been referred to the programme by their GP or community physiotherapist, invited to join or have participated whilst as a patient in one of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) hospitals.

RVS’s chair based exercise programme trains staff and volunteers to deliver chair based resistance exercise to help improve mobility, increase strength and balance and help reduce the incidence of falls.

The programme uses the evidence-based Move it or Lose it! intervention.

All of the exercises are focused on tasks which help people maintain their independence in the home – such as washing, dressing or getting out of bed.

The sessions are also focused on creating a fun, interactive and social environment using music, balls and games and are warmly received by participants who often remark how much they look forward to the classes.

Pauline West.

Pauline West.

All the exercises are done seated or standing, depending on ability.

The classes are delivered by RVS staff and volunteers who run weekly group-based community classes which are open to local people registered with a GP.

In addition, the volunteers also provide one-to-one exercise and mobility support for patients at their bedside with the aim of avoiding ‘pyjama paralysis.

Patients are then signposted to one of the community classes after discharge.

Currently 10 classes are delivered each week across the trust area: At St John’s Hospice, Lancaster, Morecambe War Memorial Hall, Queen Victoria Hospital, Morecambe (x2), Westmorland General Hospital, Kendal (x2), Ulverston Community Health Centre (x2), Furness General Hospital, Barrow, and Hindpool Community Centre.

The mean age of participants is 78 and is a mix of those who have been referred to the programme by their GP or community physiotherapist, invited to join or have participated whilst as a patient in one of the trust’s hospitals.

Jessica Toft, service manager for Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Our trained volunteers provide whatever support is needed, this could be running reminiscence therapy sessions, helping with cognitive stimulation by playing a game with patients or fetching something a patients may need to make their stay more comfortable.

“They can comfort and support patients and provide companionship for those who don’t have other visitors.

“By adding volunteers to any NHS environment you are increasing capacity for the rest of the hospital team to do what they are trained to do and freeing up their time to focus on clinical care.”

Success measures are based on outcomes including improved mobility amongst participants, and in particular improved performance in the Sit to Stand Test.

Jessica Toft.

Jessica Toft.

In addition, evaluation looks at the impact on participants’ social connection (loneliness and isolation).

On ward, volunteers will prioritise patients who are most likely to have a fall, with trust staff helping to identify these patients,

Volunteers will work more intensively with these patients and at the point of discharge, connect them to community provision.

During the classes, volunteers also provide advice on hydration and nutrition, which is key to staying healthy or during the recovery process.

Grainne Moon is an on-ward visitor who helps to support chair based exercises volunteer at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

Her role includes chatting with patients, helping to support the chair based exercise classes.

Grainne said: “I’ve been volunteering since 2018 and usually volunteer around my timetable as I’m also a student; the wards are great at being flexible around when we can come in.

“Although I don’t deliver the chair based exercises as I’m not trained to do that, I support RVS staff when they do.

“Patients really enjoy the classes as they get to listen to the music that they already know and they enjoy the social aspects too.

“It makes time pass in hospital, helps patients get to know each other and we have a really good time singing along while we exercise.”

Pauline West carries out a similar role at Furness General Hospital and also at Ulverston Health Centre.

Her role includes carrying out a weekly community chair based exercises class with patients.

She has been a committed volunteer since July 2017, dedicating Wednesdays every week to work on ward in the morning and then at Abbey View at Furness General Hospital in the afternoon for the chair based exercises class. On Thursday mornings she then helps with the community class in Ulverston.

Pauline said: “I’ve been volunteering since 2017 and commenced training for the chair based exercises in 2018.

“This programme involves volunteers like me encouraging patients to get up and practice simple exercises that help them to stay active.

“The hardest part of this is getting patients interested, as it involves them taking the plunge and leaving their comfort zones.

“There are many reasons why patients may struggle both mentally and physically to leave the familiarity of the bed or chair where they are spending most of their time, but once they do they always love the programme.

“Sometimes we even see patients staying on after the class to chat with one another in the day room.

“This is such a positive example of the impact even small physical movement and mental stimulation can have on patients. We’ve even had some who live nearby ask if they can come back after leaving hospital.”

Sue Smith, deputy chief executive and executive chief nurse for UHMBT, said: “The activities RVS volunteers are doing around the trust are incredible and contribute to our patients having the best experience possible at our hospitals.”

RVS’s services have continued to grow from strength to strength, and in June 2018 the chair based exercise programme welcome its 1,000th participant since its inception in July 2017.

By January 2019 this figure had risen to 3,200 and as at the end of March the service has recorded more than 4,000 attendances, reflecting the demand, success and popularity of the programme.

Profits from Royal Voluntary Service shops, cafes and trolley services at UHMBT are invested into the supervision and guidance that is needed to train the volunteers and run the on-ward services.