Volunteers at UK hospices help reduce costs by almost 25%

by Bridget Candy Cochrane Research Fellow, Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Unit Bridget-Candy

There are more than 100,000 hospice volunteers in the UK1 and their contribution reduces hospice costs by an estimated 23%.2 

We published a study last week looking at the true extent to which unpaid volunteers help meet the growing demand for palliative care at hospices in the UK.3 We gathered data from two-thirds (194) of the adult hospices and specialist palliative care services in the UK that involve volunteers. We found that volunteers were commonly involved in day care (where non-resident patients receive care services available to inpatients including some medical care) and bereavement services but also entirely ran some complementary, beauty therapy/hairdressing and pastoral/faith-based care services.

Other main findings

  • Volunteers were most commonly involved in day care and bereavement services. They also gave emotional care to patients and, in at least half of the settings, to patients’ families.

  • In 68% of services volunteers were involved in counselling, which is a highly skilled and emotionally demanding role.

  • In nearly half of organisations where volunteers were involved with inpatients, volunteers sat with patients in the last hours of life – demonstrating how much volunteers contribute to core end-of-life care.

  • In nearly a third of organisations volunteers also provided help in patients’ homes, such as running errands or providing a ‘listening ear’.

  • Creative/diversional therapies, beauty therapy/hairdressing complementary/alternative therapies, and pastoral/faith-based services were most commonly run entirely by volunteers – and free of charge.

  • Volunteers offered their professional skills for free - mostly beauty therapists/hairdressers, complementary therapists and spiritual care workers.

Our comprehensive survey shows that volunteers are involved intrinsically and extensively in specialist adult palliative services. We should acknowledge their immense contribution and ensure that their support needs are well understood.

“Volunteering at the local Marie Curie hospice once a week gives me a real sense of achievement.  Helping with different activities in the day care centre and gaining the trust of patients so that they can talk about their concerns is a truly humbling and rewarding experience.  It can be quite upsetting at times, but I know my help and support is really appreciated by patients and their families.” Sheila Woodhams is a volunteer at the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands

This study was funded by the Dimbleby Marie Curie Cancer Care Research Fund grant and was conducted by the Marie Curie Palliative Research Unit and researchers from University College London Medical School, the Institute for Volunteering Research and the International Observatory on End of Life Care at Lancaster University.   1. Help the Hospices. Volunteering. www.helpthehospices.org.uk/getinvolved/volunteering/. (Last accessed Nov 5 2012) 2. Help the Hospices. Volunteer Value: a pilot survey of UK hospices. London: Help the Hospices, 2006 3. Burbeck R, Low J, Sampson L, Bravery R, Hill M, Ockenden N, Morris S, Payne J, Candy B.  Volunteers in specialist palliative care: A survey of adult services in the UK. Journal of Palliative Medicine, Volume 17, Number X, 2014. Online at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jpm.2013.0157.