The first meeting of the EAPC Task Force on volunteering took place at the 8th World Research Congress of EAPC in Spain in June. Attended by members from Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the Azores, Ireland and the UK, the focus was on exploring the rich phenomenon that is hospice and palliative care volunteering.
A proposal to form the Task Force was explored during the symposium the ”Colourful life of hospice volunteers in Europe” at the EAPC Congress in Prague in 2013. Delegates at that meeting engaged in dialogue and debate about approaches to volunteering and the key areas of importance. The outcomes from this informed the aims and focus for our work.
With members from 14 different countries and growing, the Task Force benefits from insights and experiences from volunteers, volunteer co-ordinators and managers, palliative care professionals and researchers. The richness of experience stems from the diverse approaches to the unique world that is volunteering in Europe. It is this world that the Task Force have set out to explore by looking at:
- the roles undertaken by volunteers in hospice and palliative care in Europe
- motivations for volunteering
- how volunteering is managed
- what training is offered to volunteers
- what the challenges are for volunteers, managers and organisations
- the numbers of volunteers involved in each participating country
- how volunteering is understood.
Why is it important that we explore volunteering in Europe? What can it bring to our work in the UK?
Volunteers play an important role in hospice and palliative care services in Europe and in some countries the origins of services can be traced back to volunteers. Many services, not only in the UK, depend on volunteers in order to be able to provide the range and quality of services to those who need palliative and end of life care. Indeed some services in Europe are volunteer-led.
This work on volunteering is important as there in much that we still have to understand about this unique part of our workforce. Where is the place for volunteering within palliative care?
All too often this is a place of uncertainty and sometimes tension. Are volunteers part of the professional team, part of an organisation, part of the patient’s informal caring network, part of a caring community or perhaps all of these?
Society is changing and with it volunteering. We face ageing populations with increasingly complex healthcare needs. Certainly in the UK we know that we will need to continue to develop new and different ways to involve volunteers in our services – the reason behind the recent publication ‘Volunteering: vital to our future‘.
It is entirely coincidental that much of our discussions have focussed around training but it has clearly emerged as a key area of interest. This is indeed one area where perhaps we in the UK can learn from colleagues elsewhere as, unlike many of our European colleagues, we have no national approach to training for volunteers in hospice and palliative care.
What we hope the work of the Task Force will do through collecting and sharing information is to provide a picture of volunteering in Europe. This insight will, we hope, provide an insight into different volunteering activities, frameworks and challenges acting as a catalyst for change and development that enriches and empower the contribution of volunteers.
It is easy to become complacent and to develop our work within the sector without taking time to look beyond both hospice and palliative care and the UK. Many of the best ideas that we haven’t yet had are out there for us to find if only we are prepared to look!
The Task Force is only at the start of a really exciting journey to understand so much more about volunteering, how it is understood in different countries, and how we can empower the development of volunteering in Europe.