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Patients as Volunteers?
What are the concerns?
I saw a question posted on a forum recently asking other practices if they have patients as volunteers and it got me thinking about the roles that volunteers could play in our practices. One of the obvious questions and concerns would be about protecting the confidentiality of patients; the other would be about what that role would involve which is not already undertaken by a member of staff currently employed by the practice.
Some practices have such a proactive patient participation group (PPPG) that these trusted patients have roles which have evolved into a very useful support system for both the practice and patients, such as volunteer drivers. However, whilst this free help might seem ideal what risks should be taken into consideration? I think that patients, however helpful and willing they may be, should be made fully aware of the concerns of both the practice and other patients. It may be a useful exercise to do a short patient survey to find out what patients would like a volunteer to help with and what concerns they may have, so that these are fully addressed beforehand.
What could they do?
Once it is established what patients would like a patient volunteer to do its important to clarify what remit that person will have and who they are accountable to i.e. the practice. There may be someone already employed by the practice who could share some of their tasks with the volunteer which wouldn’t cause a burden to the practice such as updating the information leaflets in the waiting room. We all get inundated with about 30 or so leaflets for various health conditions and services so maybe the PPG could review them and agree which ones are most useful and which ones should be put aside so that they could be rotated. A volunteer could also help with the circulation and distribution of the practice newsletter.
Taking it one step further
If practices would like volunteers to have more involvement there are other organisations which have processes, similar to recruitment processes, which volunteers would need to go through. Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust has a page on its website about Patient Support Volunteers (PSV). They support the clinical staff in improving the experience of patients during their admissions and are able to highlight any issues which might need to be resolved. There is a process to go through to become a PSV and that includes an interview and induction and training. Similar to recruiting an employee, pre-employment checks would be made including the collection of character references, Occupational Health clearance and in some cases Disclosure and Barring Service checks (formerly CRB). For more information see the link below.
Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust: http://www.srft.nhs.uk/jobs-careers/volunteer-opportunities/becoming-a-volunteer/