Volunteers take time to save time for NHS staff

A specialised group of volunteers at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust are estimated to have saved hospital staff more than 700 hours over a 13-month period.

Wearing a bright red uniform, the hospital “bleep” volunteers are available to run errands across the West Suffolk Hospital site – each volunteer carries a phone on their shift, so staff can contact them when necessary.

The data was collected from September 2018 to September 2019, tracking the amount of times the volunteers collect and deliver medicine from the hospital pharmacy to patients to take home with them. The volunteers saved staff more than 54 hours and made 450 trips to and from the hospital pharmacy on average per month – and they haven’t stopped since.

By supporting staff with this non-clinical task, the volunteers are able to free up valuable time for staff who can then focus on direct patient care.

However, take-home medications are just one part of the “bleep” volunteers’ varied role. They can also be contacted by staff to collect and deliver patient meals from the hospital catering department, push patients in wheelchairs to a clinic or ward, and even run an errand for a patient, such as collecting them a newspaper from the hospital shop.

The hospital first trained bleep volunteers in November 2015. Reaching their fourth anniversary at the Trust, they are now a 29-strong team who are on hand to help.

Val Dutton, voluntary services manager at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This data is testament to the dedication of our fabulous ‘bleep’ volunteers – their hard work supported our staff over a particularly busy winter period last year, and the impact they have had cannot be underestimated – we know they will do the same this winter to help us. They not only support staff to do their jobs better, but they are even helping to make our patients feel more comfortable and go home quicker. This helps the flow of the whole hospital. Well done to them all, I am very proud.”

The volunteers are on hand from Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm and on Saturday from 9am to 4pm. The Trust is hoping to be able to expand the service to cover Sundays in the future.

Val continued: “Some of our ‘bleep’ volunteers do a shift or two a week, some even more, but every little helps, and we have many other roles on offer too that help to make our Trust a truly special place. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with our Trust, please do get in touch – we would love to hear from you.”

Helpforce, a national initiative to make volunteering and community-integrated healthcare the norm across the UK, compiled the bleep volunteer time-saving data.

Helpforce chief executive, Mark Lever said: “It has been a privilege working with the forward-thinking volunteer services team at West Suffolk. Across the UK, we see the huge impact well-trained volunteers bring to patients, and this data collated by our team, shows how much valuable time volunteers can save for busy staff in the NHS.

“Waiting for medicines on the day of discharge can be a delay that patients face, so volunteers also play a critical role helping patients get home quicker. We are now working with other NHS Trusts so that they can create similar volunteer services, and ensure more staff have more time to care.”

If you would like to volunteer at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust visit www.wsh.nhs.uk and click the “join our team” section, email voluntary.services@wsh.nhs.uk or telephone: 01284 713169.

Pictured above are four of the “bleep” volunteers.

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