Marie Curie provides care and support for people living with a terminal illness and their loved ones and in 2014 we launched the Companion Volunteer Service with Musgrove Park Hospital.
Musgrove Park Hospital is an acute trust situated in the rural county of Somerset. It is always looking to improve and enhance the care that it provides to end of life patients, but recognises that ensuring one-to-one support for patients who die in hospital can be challenging in a busy acute hospital.
The reality for a small number of end of life patients in hospital is that they may spend long periods of time alone or have little company. Some may have family present, but they can often feel overwhelmed and isolated themselves.
It is clear that staff wish to devote more time to support people who are dying, but all too often the needs of other patients on busy wards means that dedicating time to give important emotional support can be difficult.
Companions are specially trained volunteers from the community who have dedicated time to be with the dying; to accompany, advocate and support during this difficult and personal time.
The companions can offer respite support, but more often they provide a listening ear to patients and families alike, enhancing the end of life care they receive at the hospital.
The volunteers undertake five weeks of training to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need. This includes patient confidentiality, communication skills and issues concerning bereavement and loss. There is also a chance for volunteers to receive further training such as dementia awareness.
As well as volunteers being extremely valuable to healthcare providers, they themselves often find the experience extremely rewarding, as companion Jenny Campbell explains: “A quite unexpected ‘benefit’ I have experienced on occasions, is a deep sense of profound peace and tranquillity, which comes from sitting quietly for up to three hours, often just gently holding a patient’s hand and reassuring them of your presence.”
What benefits have we seen?
The Marie Curie Companion Service has received more than 100 referrals since it launched in July 2014 and aims to support more people with a terminal illness and their loved ones at Musgrove Park Hospital.
Following the launch we have seen an increase in staff-led conversations about death within the hospital. Nurses also feel reassured that their patients are receiving emotional support and communication is enhanced.
The service has also received many messages of positive feedback from bereaved family members. One commented: “I am sure you already know that comfort and support is so much needed during difficult periods and I would like to say how grateful we were for the kindness and care shown to us.”