Hannah's vital volunteering role helps patients

Hannah Smith providing company and comfort to patients. Image shows her talking to a patient in a bed in ED. You can see the patient's hand and their body under a blanket with yellow falls socks on their feet. Hannah is wearing a volunteer's t-shirt

Published 2 February 2023

A gap year can be a chance to boost your finances or have some fun before settling down to study.

But for aspiring medic Hannah Smith it’s an opportunity to gain some valuable skills and give something back to her community.

Hannah is a volunteer in the emergency department at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, spending two mornings a week helping staff and patients in one of the busiest areas of the hospital.

Her role involves everything from serving meals to keeping patients company, and she can clock up around 8,000 steps per shift as she walks around the department.

The 22 year old, who hopes to start medical school in the autumn after already completing a biomedical sciences degree, said: “The best thing about being a volunteer is that I am a bonus, I can do whatever is most useful on any particular day.

“While I can’t provide medical care, I can help people feel more comfortable by checking in with them, offering a listening ear, helping to answer their questions or just by making them a cup of tea.

“I have the time to do the things the doctors and nurses would love to do; I’ve heard some fantastic stories from people about their time in the armed forces, or as a child evacuee to Wales during the Second World War.

“I’ve also been able to support grieving families and that is a real privilege.”

Like all volunteers, Hannah had to pass an interview to check her suitability for the role, and needed a DBS check before she could start. Volunteers are given a full induction and are supported by staff in the department, from housekeepers to nurses.

Hannah also volunteers at Pilgrims Hospices, and spent time in a specialist dementia care home as well to further hone her skills.

She said: “I have definitely become more confident in talking to different people; when I first started it felt quite daunting to approach someone, especially if they were agitated or distressed.

“But I have seen the real difference that human interaction can have on someone – quite often I will ask if they are okay and they will burst into tears.

“I have the luxury of time to sit with them and let them know it’s okay to feel frightened or frustrated, and to cry, and it can really help them to feel safe and cared for.”

Staff guide Hannah as to which patients would most benefit from her time, and are always on hand to offer help or advice.

She said: “I have not met a single member of staff – doctors, nurses, porters, or housekeepers – who hasn’t been welcoming and friendly.

“Everyone is so supportive and I would encourage anyone who likes chatting to people to consider being a volunteer.

“You can really help improve someone’s experience and being in the emergency department isn’t as daunting as you might think – I absolutely love it!”

Mandy Carliell, head of volunteering and public services at East Kent Hospitals, said: “Volunteers are one of the greatest assets the Trust has as they have the time to give our patients plenty of one-to-one attention, sometimes at the most difficult times in their lives. This role can be very challenging yet one of the most fulfilling roles our volunteers provide for us.

“The role of emergency department volunteer is one of our latest volunteer projects and we need many more people in Margate and Ashford. Please get in touch if you have any time to spare. You can be guaranteed a very warm welcome.”

You can find out more about volunteering for East Kent Hospitals at https://www.ekhuft.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/members/volunteering-at-east-kent-hospitals/ or email Mandy at mandy.carliell@nhs.net