The Royal Free Charity has been shortlisted in two categories of a national awards scheme that celebrates the contribution volunteers make to the health and care sector.

Volunteers, and staff from the Royal Free London NHS Trust’s sleep and ventilation clinic, have been shortlisted in the Innovation in Volunteering category for a digital skills pilot project that saw an increase in the numbers of patients attending their remote appointments.

Meanwhile, in the Young Volunteer of the Year award, 20-year-old Holly Grant has made the shortlist.

Jon Spiers, chief executive of the Royal Free Charity, said: “Having recently achieved Investing in Volunteers status, our volunteer service is going from strength to strength. All 900 of our amazing volunteers play a valuable part in supporting the patients and staff of the Royal Free London and it’s particularly heartening to make the shortlist of these prestigious national awards.”

The awards celebrate the invaluable contributions made by volunteers across the UK during the past turbulent year, fundamentally defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young Volunteer of the Year award

Royal Free Charity volunteer Holly

Holly Grant, now a first-year nursing student, volunteers at Barnet Hospital as part of the charity’s young volunteer programme. She undertakes admin duties and other non-clinical tasks with confidence, which means that staff can focus their attention on the clinical needs of the patients and the ward. She displays exceptional patience and empathy when supporting patients with dementia.

Holly is also committed to providing peer support to other young volunteers. Recently, Holly has mentored new young volunteers who have started in the hospital to show them the ropes. Ward volunteering can be quite a daunting experience for new volunteers, especially during a pandemic; she has been a brilliant role model, helping the charity to nurture the next generation of young volunteers.

Holly said: “Volunteering has taught me so much and given me opportunities to grow and understand the different stages of life and what support people need in times of bad health.

“Giving people my time in some of the hardest points in their life is important and rewarding, especially in these current times when visitors are not necessarily allowed in. I’m proud to be that friendly face, and prouder to do it on behalf of the Royal Free Charity that I’m honoured to be a part of.”

Innovation in Volunteering Award

The digital skills pilot was set up to address concerns that the move to telephone and video appointments during the pandemic might be hard for some patients to adapt to, especially if they were not confident with using video call technology. The main aim was to help reduce health inequalities by tackling digital exclusion in the local area.

Royal Free Charity volunteers worked with staff from the trust’s sleep and ventilation clinic, including Sarah Milne, lead renal nurse, and Stephanie Mansell, consultant physiotherapist, to design and deliver the project.  The objective was to assist patients to remotely attend their clinic appointments and explain and provide information on how to use the appropriate digital platforms and how to adhere to Infection and prevention control measures if attending in person.

The NHS clinical team empowered and trusted the volunteers to co-design the digital pilot to best help the patients.  Regular meetings meant the volunteers could directly influence the project; for example, volunteers made suggestions regarding improving the technology as well as enhancing how the patients might better communicate with the department.

Volunteers made 400 pre-appointment calls over the pilot period between January and March 2021. Around 20% of patients required some form of support to attend their appointment. The rates of non-attendance for patients who the volunteers successfully contacted were less than half as much as those who could not be contacted (11% compared to 25%).

Volunteer Vinod Taylor said: “I have been fortunate enough to be involved, as a volunteer, with such an innovative digital project since November 2020. It has been a really enjoyable experience and volunteers have been able to add value to the process of ensuring that the patients were aware of their appointments and if they had any issues with their appointment then discuss it with the volunteers. It started as a pilot project and now there are plans to use the process for other areas of the hospital and to other north London hospitals.”

The awards

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of Helpforce, said: 2020 and 2021 have seen the NHS and all our healthcare services face one of the biggest challenges in their history, and we have seen volunteers step up in their thousands to help.

“This year, we have received a record number of entries for the Helpforce Champions Awards with so many brilliant examples of innovation, great practice, commitment, and real passion for patient care and support for staff across the health and care sector in the UK.

“We want to thank everyone for taking the time to recognise the volunteers and send our congratulations to those who have been shortlisted and we’d like to wish them the best of luck.”

Winners will be announced on Helpforce’s website and social media channels on 30th October.

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Notes to editors

The Royal Free Charity’s vision is for everyone served by the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to have access to world-leading healthcare, delivered by a thriving workforce and driven by medical research that has a global impact. From small acts of kindness to huge investments in discovery and innovation, everything the charity does changes lives for the better and helps Barnet, Chase Farm and Royal Free hospitals go further and faster than the NHS could do alone.

Helpforce partners with health and care organisations across the UK to accelerate the growth and impact of volunteering.  They are an independent not-for-profit innovator, focused on co-creation of volunteering projects with NHS Trusts and systems, and rapidly sharing insights and best practice.