Support and information needs of hospice volunteers

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2015). Support and information needs of hospice volunteers. In: 11th Asia Pacific Hospice Conference, 30 Apr - 3 May 2015, Taipei, Taiwan.


The importance of the contribution by volunteers to hospice services is now widely acknowledged with many volunteers bringing special talents to the work of hospice. A volunteer can be the most significant person to the dying patient and can become very close. The experience of being a volunteer may be emotionally demanding and the emphasis on being relentlessly cheerful, so much a feature of hospice, can also add to the stress of the role. This paper discusses the support and information needs of volunteers to minimise ‘burn-out’ and enable them to be ‘effective companions’ to dying people.

Materials and Methods
Research, conducted in an English hospice, explored the support needs of hospice volunteers who, in some hospice settings, have come to be seen as members of the multidisciplinary team. Qualitative methods of a focus group and individual semi-structured interviews were used for data collection. Full consent procedures were followed to ensure confidentiality and data were thematically coded and analysed.

Detached concern, as practised by professionally trained clinical staff, was not a feature of the volunteers’ experience. Feelings of sadness, loss and compassion fatigue led some volunteers to feel insecure and emotionally overwhelmed by their work at the hospice. Avenues of support were considered to be limited, particularly from paid staff perceived to be overburdened with clinical responsibilities. Informal strategies for peer support were developed by volunteers; these contributed to their wellbeing and were seen to be of both social and instrumental importance.

A person-centred approach to care is embedded within hospice culture and the importance of extending this approach to create volunteer-centric support opportunities within a framework of mutual dependence and enrichment is proposed. Whilst all hospice volunteers undertake training for their role, this paper calls for a stronger focus on ongoing organisational support for volunteers in this setting to further strengthen service delivery to patients and their families.

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