Inspiring volunteers celebrated at Royal United Hospitals

Bob the Dog was one of many wagging his tail at the Royal United Hospitals (Bath) NHS Foundation Trust celebration of volunteers. The event on Monday, June 3, was held to celebrate the invaluable contribution of volunteers to the hospital.

The event kicked off National Volunteers’ Week 2024, during which charities and organisations such as the RUH thank all those who give their time to help others.

In 2023, around 250 people volunteered with the RUH, ranging from 16-year-olds participating in the NHS Cadets programme to people in their 80s. Together, they gave 21,000 hours– with 71 individuals helping for more than 100 hours each. Receiving specialist training for their roles, the volunteers offer both practical and emotional support to those at all stages of a hospital journey, from the Welcome Volunteers in the Atrium, who help visitors find their way around to the Dorothy House Compassionate Companions who sit with end-of-life patients to ensure they are not alone.

Visitors and patients might also meet them on wards, in outpatient clinics, and in the emergency department, or be entertained by them when listening to the hospital’s ‘Bath Sounds’ radio station.

Others serve cake and gifts in the ‘Friends of the RUH’ café and Atrium shop or help with gardening to keep the outside spaces pleasant places to take a break from busy wards. Some also assist with specialist services, such as spiritual care volunteers and breastfeeding peer supporters.

Canine volunteers like Bob are known as ‘Pets as Therapy’ (PAT) dogs. Along with their volunteer owners, these dogs visit staff and patients throughout the hospital. Their presence is shown to help reduce anxiety, boost mental health, and comfort those missing their own furry friends.

Warren Finney, CEO of Friends of the RUH, said: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Friends of the RUH as they bring their time, skills and experience to everything we do. Without them, we wouldn't be able to impact the charity's work with patients or run our shop and cafe, which enables us to support essential projects across the RUH financially.

“This includes funding the hospital’s musician in residence, which provides patient-led music interactions with patients of all ages to help recovery, as well as maintaining the gardens as greenspaces, which can positively impact rehabilitation and help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The volunteers are amazing, and we are thankful for their support.”

The volunteers don’t just support the hospital; many also help the hospital charity, RUHX, with fundraising events. Rhyannon Boyd, Head of RUHX, said: “Volunteers offer incredible support to RUHX and the RUH. The support and dedication from volunteers enable us to make our place healthier, happier, and more vital for the future and help us support the extra extraordinary work that leads to exceptional care for everyone.

“A huge thank you to every single volunteer who has ever given their time, knowledge, or experience to RUHX. We could not do it without you.”

The RUH also supports volunteers considering a healthcare career. In collaboration with St John’s Ambulance, the NHS Cadets programme aims to widen access to health volunteering for young people, particularly those who might not have traditionally experienced these opportunities. Another option for some is to Volunteer for a Career, which helps those considering a career in healthcare to understand their options, develop their skills and explore which roles might match their skills. Matthew Davies, who has been providing companionship (and teas and coffees) on the Older Persons Assessment Unit for ten months, explained that after being stuck in a rut, the programme had given him the confidence and experience to pursue a career in care: “Since working here, I’ve realised that this is where I want to be. I feel like I’m at home.”

One of the RUH’s more longstanding volunteers is Andy Edwards, who has been here for ten years and helps in the Emergency Department and Respiratory Ward, providing emotional and practical support to patients and their families and staff members. He told us: “You can’t underestimate the value of volunteering. You go home at the end of the day and think, ‘I’m glad I was able to give some comfort to that’. If you like people, I can’t think of a better place to be a volunteer.”

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer at the RUH can find out more on the RUH website.