Volunteers with dying patients in care homes
Using questionnaires, reflective diaries, activity data and interviews with professional project participants we sought to:
Understand what worked well
Understand the challenges and how they were overcome
Assess the added value of the service
Identify important considerations for the continuance of the service
Funder: East Midlands Healthcare Workforce Deanery
In care homes where residents had used VALE, the service had undoubtedly added value to the care home. As far as can be inferred from the comments of staff and volunteers, VALE was also valued by, and made a difference, to residents and their families.
There are a numbers of obstacles in developing a VALE service for care homes. Firstly the number of residents likely to require the service in any one care home is very low. This might be around 1 in 4 of residents who die. Even in a care home with 50 deaths a year (a high number) this would then be one resident a month on average. Secondly the need for VALE is fairly immediate and intense, requiring a very responsive service.
Dying has an unpredictable time course and although VALE is not a befriending service it would seem that it’s main value and perhaps the satisfaction of the volunteers, is in being with people who need company in the last weeks of that journey.
VALE appears to work best where volunteers maintain regular contact with care homes by phone.
The criteria for referral to VALE should not be restricted to the last hours of life, nor to aim for residents to have VALE at the point of death, but to aim for VALE to provide companionship and support quality of life in the last few weeks and days.
VALE is not just useful for those residents with no visitors. It is also likely to be needed alongside family visitors and on occasion volunteers may have a very important role in their interaction and support of family.
Given the evidence of levels of need it would seem that a viable, responsive service could only be maintained by a pool of volunteers working across a group of care homes with robust systems for both regular contact with care homes and coordination of response to individual resident needs.