NHS 70 - "Volunteers can give time for emotional support and reassurance."

September 11th, 2018
Dilshad Sultan

As part of the NHS 70 celebrations, we interviewed Dilshad Sultan, who has volunteered for the Macmillan Information and Support Centre in Watford since 2013. 

Where do you volunteer and for how long have you been doing it?

I’ve been volunteering at the Macmillan information and support centre in Watford General Hospital for the last 5 years.

How did you get in to volunteering and what do you do?

I attended a Cancer Support course organised by our community with Macmillan to support members of our elderly congregation.

However, most do not need our support as some have a strong, personal family support system and others do not want anyone to know about their condition.

I therefore approached Watford General Hospital to volunteer here.

We are an information and support centre. Our role is mainly to give out information in the form of booklets and other material. We also give information prescription leaflets that oncologists prescribe to patients. We provide a listening ear and signpost patients to other relevant services.

At other times, some patients who are recently diagnosed are too upset at the enormity of the situation that they need a shoulder to cry on. The emotional support we have provided has been found to be invaluable in the immediate aftermath of diagnosis. The nurses also use us as a messaging service when they are in clinic and unable to take calls. It provides a person at the end of the line rather than an answering machine. We also make up information packs for nurses which they can then dispense to their patients.

What do you enjoy about your volunteer role, and how does it benefit you?

I enjoy supporting families who have had a recent bereavement or members of their family at the end of their life. However, I feel I need more training in this respect as this area is very sensitive. Though most people would like to avail of this service, for some this support needs to be done very carefully so as not to offend.

I like offering a one to one support face to face when a patient walks in to our centre.

We have regular insets and training sessions organised by our centre and some training online by the hospital which I find particularly useful. It helps me to keep abreast of current research and thinking about various issues.

What difference are you making by volunteering?

The biggest difference is freeing up valuable nurses’ time to do mundane tasks like sending invitations for the living well event etc, or anything the nurses need ordering, they could just ask us, like taking their messages as mention above.

I feel I am giving back to the society some of my expertise and time where it is needed. I am now retired and to me this is a kind of pay back for all that I have been given.

I believe in the universal principle of “In Giving we receive”. I have a strong belief system which has enabled me to understand that kindness and compassion is multiplied manifold and returned. Though this smacks of as a selfish reason to give, it is after all a universal principle.

I think a big difference is in supporting the patients. The nurses and other HCP would like to give more time to their patients, but with the best will in the world this is not always possible. I think this is where the volunteers are making the biggest difference. They can give time for emotional support and also when the patients need to ask more questions. The nurses explain to them initially, but sometimes it is a lot to take and they subsequently have more questions. 

We also visit patients at the bedside when requested by the nurses, again for this same reason. Some have little or no visits and therefore nurses ask us to sit with them for a ‘chat’.

In conclusion, with services stretched, and with more active retired individuals in the society, I think astute managers would do well to tap this ‘free resource’ available in our society. By streamlining volunteers according to their strengths (qualification and experience) and providing the right training, almost every area in the hospital could benefit. In turn, the retirees would have something worthwhile to do, feel good about it which in turn would be good for their wellbeing.