Exploring the working role of hospice volunteers

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2011). Exploring the working role of hospice volunteers. In: BSA Medical Sociology Group Annual Conference, 14-16 Sep 2011, University of Chester.


Volunteering is now a regular feature of health and social care service provision with volunteers working in diverse contexts such as day care centres, ‘after school’ clubs, hospitals and hospices. The promotion of the idea of an active civil society by successive UK governments has led to the professionalisation of some voluntary work as the product of a partnership between the voluntary sector, government and business. More standardised working practices and semi-formalised aspects of voluntary work have changed the experience of volunteering because, as Morrison (2000: 109) argues, ‘there is a particular and very significant tension between a professionalised managerial approach and a more traditional volunteering ethos’. Volunteers have a well-established place in palliative care, particularly in the hospice setting. Using a case study approach, this paper discusses the diverse roles of volunteers in palliative care highlighting the increasing importance of their work to the successful delivery of hospice services. Issues such as volunteer motivation, training, support, accountability and ethical concerns regarding establishing and maintaining boundaries, are considered. Evidence from the case study suggests that ‘being valued on a professional level’ and ‘doing something useful’ are key motivating factors. The emotional burden of this volunteer work is explored and points to the need to establish personal and social boundaries to help maintain resilience in this sensitive care setting. Whilst there is a high level of commitment by volunteers to the work of hospice, evidence points to the need to nurture these contributions that cannot be taken for granted.

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