Hospital volunteer is making his mark

James Grieves.
James Grieves.

A Morpeth teenager has been speaking about his volunteer role that sees him interacting with hospital patients as part of a new initiative.

Supported by NHS England, HelpForce is working with health organisations across the country to improve volunteering practice and make a positive difference.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is among those taking part and its initial focus is on getting young people involved.

Members of its volunteering service visited St Benet Biscop Catholic Academy in Bedlington and did a presentation, and student James Grieves was among those who successfully applied.

The recruitment process involved a DBS check, occupation health check, references and attendance at a volunteer induction session.

A new role development session was also created to help prepare the volunteers and understand key aspects of their role around dementia, difficult conversations, bereavement, social media and what to expect on a hospital ward.

Although they do not take on the duties of paid staff, the volunteering service members organising Northumbria’s HelpForce initiative have said that James and the others are making a valuable contribution since starting earlier this year.

The 17-year-old has been speaking to patients, including those with dementia, filling water bottles for them and occasionally sourcing extra blankets and pillows.

He is based at The Northumbria hospital near Cramlington.

“I was nervous to start with, but I had a great welcome from the hospital staff and I instantly felt part of their team,” he said.

“The role development session from the volunteering service was really useful as it gave us clear guidance on things like how best to communicate with patients and manage the conversation, such as steering away from uncomfortable topics.

“The patients have some interesting stories to tell about their lives. For example, I’ve chatted with a French woman who was alive during the Second World War.

“It’s amazing how appreciative they are of having someone to talk to, especially the ones who don’t get any visitors.

“It also feels good when you can help someone. I was chatting to a patient with dementia and discovered she enjoyed Sherlock Holmes books.

“When she was getting a bit worked up, a member of the volunteering team sourced a Sherlock Holmes audio book for her using the Reminiscence Interactive Therapy Activity (RITA) system at the hospital and this calmed her down.”

He added that he would like to continue the weekly role for the rest of the year.

Students from King Edward VI School in Morpeth are also involved and Wansbeck General Hospital is the other volunteering location.

“As soon as we met James, we instantly thought that he would be a great addition to the volunteer team and this has proved to be correct as many patients have told us how nice and engaging he is,” said Michael Porter, volunteering service member.