Two-fifths (40%) of patients on UK hospital wards get no visitors, say the NHS nurses who care for them.
The Royal Voluntary Service charity commissioned a poll of 200 nurses working in acute hospitals in Britain.
As well as being socially isolating, having no visitor to help with the “small” things, such as cutting up food or refilling a water glass, can delay a patient’s recovery, the nurses say.
They want more people to become volunteer visitors and helpers.
Christine Thorne, 37, volunteers at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary: “My dad spent time in hospital before he passed away and it was primarily only my brother and I who visited him. It makes me sad to think there are people in hospital with no-one at all to come and see them. Hospitals can be a scary place at the best of times, more so if you don’t have a friendly face to help you through it.”
She helps out at mealtimes.
“I might assist with little things like peeling a banana, taking the lid off a tub of ice-cream or simply taking their tray away when they’ve finished.”
Tessa Yau is 17 and wants to become a doctor. She says volunteering on the ward is benefiting her as well as the patients by improving her confidence.
“I mostly visit elderly patients. There are quite a few that don’t seem to have visitors.
“If I do become a doctor in the future it’s good that I have an understanding of how patients feel. Some can get quite upset and agitated and don’t want to be in hospital. They want to go home. It’s really rewarding that I can help lift their spirits.”
‘A couple of hours a week?’
Hospital volunteers aren’t a substitute for staff, but they can do things staff can’t always provide, such as taking time to chat and listen.
Some volunteers have been patients themselves and can share their experiences.
Others take on the role of “hand holder” to offer support to patients having procedures or surgery.
Volunteers might also help out in hospital shops or provide a “meet and greet” service to help outpatients and visitors navigate their way around hospital.
The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London has “bleep volunteers” – people who help fetch drugs from the pharmacy and deliver them to the ward so that patients can go home quickly once they have been discharged.
Some hospitals ask volunteers to provide transport for patients so they can more easily get to and from hospital for check-ups.
According to the nurses in the survey, patients were less likely to be mobile if they had no visitors, were less likely to follow medical advice, had fewer conversations and relied on nursing staff more.
Sam Ward, from the Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Volunteering can be very rewarding. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. It could be a couple of hours a week. We provide training.”
The RVS website has more information on volunteering opportunities.