Palliative care volunteerism across the healthcare system: A survey study

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Abstract

Background:

Volunteers fulfil several roles in supporting terminally ill people and their relatives and can positively influence quality of care. Healthcare in many countries faces resource constraints and some governments now expect communities to provide an increasing proportion of palliative care. However, systematic insights into volunteer presence, tasks and training and organisational challenges for volunteerism are lacking.

Aim:

Describe organised volunteerism in palliative direct patient care across the Flemish healthcare system (Belgium).

Design:

A cross-sectional postal survey using a self-developed questionnaire was conducted with 342 healthcare organisations.

Setting/participants:

The study included full population samples of palliative care units, palliative day-care centres, palliative home care teams, medical oncology departments, sitting services, community home care services and a random sample of nursing homes.

Results:

Responses were obtained for 254 (79%) organisations; 80% have volunteers providing direct patient care. Psychosocial, signalling and existential care tasks were the most prevalent volunteer tasks. The most cited organisational barriers were finding suitable (84%) and new (80%) volunteers; 33% of organisations offered obligatory training (75% dedicated palliative care, 12% nursing homes). Differences in volunteer use were associated with training needs and prevalence of organisational barriers.

Conclusion:

Results suggest potential for larger volunteer contingents. The necessity of volunteer support and training and organisational coordination of recruitment efforts is emphasised. Organisations are encouraged to invest in adequate volunteer support and training. The potential of shared frameworks for recruitment and training of volunteers is discussed. Future research should study volunteerism at the volunteer level to contrast with organisational data.

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