A & E

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There are many wards that you can volunteer on at Tameside Hospital but there is one at the very heart of the hospital, a place many patients see first hand, the Accident and Emergency department. If you have spent any time in A and E then you will appreciate that a kind word or a cup of tea can go along way. Before I made my way to the department I volunteered in the surgical unit and in the fracture clinic. It felt like a lesson in dealing with volunteering on a busy ward. Volunteering in the surgical unit meant helping with the drinks trolley, chatting with patients and restocking the gloves and other items around the wards. I spent some time putting a pile of files in alphabetical order to help the Nurse in Charge which sounds quite boring but was actually a great way to get to know the ward staff. They each had a brilliant sense of humour.

As I went around the ward one patient called me over “Nurse,” she said. I explained I wasn’t a nurse but a volunteer. As it turned out no medical expertise was required, as she just wanted the window open. This is a really important aspect of having volunteers in a hospital, as the nurses are helping with patient’s medical needs I could check if the patients comfortable and had enough to drink. It might have meant the world to have someone just to let some fresh air in. In one case I went to get members of staff to assist another staff member with a lady who had fallen. This is something a volunteer isn’t expected to directly help with but I could inform the staff who have the appropriate knowledge.

Volunteers can help in Outpatient’s clinics and the fracture clinic is one of the busiest. This was where I was reminded how hard the NHS staff work. I don’t think they stood still for the entire time I was there. My main job was to bring patient’s files from the reception to the consultants. This was extremely helpful for staff as they may have been stopped by a patient to ask them about their appointment time and inadvertently slow the process down further. A few hours later the packed waiting room was empty, the wounds dressed and the X Rays completed.

Now it was time for A and E. I met John Vare, who was the emergency departments expert volunteer. He helped me find my bearings. Which was lucky, because I kept walking the wrong way. After my experience on the other wards I was ready to apply this to the busiest department in the hospital. Except on this Tuesday morning it was quiet in A and E. John was a man after my own heart and liked to keep busy so we folded bags together and prepared sheets.

John suggested I return another time and so I volunteered to help Community Voluntary Action Tameside and other volunteers spend 36 hours in A and E to see how the voluntarily sector could take some of the pressure off A and E. My shift was a Saturday night 8pm to midnight. My fellow volunteer was Matt Kidd from Community Led Initiatives that helps people with issues such as substance misuse. Now I was the expert of A and E. Showing Matt where everything was. I still walked the wrong way but less often. We introduced ourselves to the staff and I mentioned it seemed quiet to the Nurse in Charge, she warned me not to use the “Q word,” and then held me directly responsible when the ambulances started to arrive. Matt and I quickly went off to get to work. It is worth noting that I am quite squeamish and didn’t see anything distressing in the entire time I visited any ward or clinic.

We made tea for not only the patients but also their worried friends and family and the staff themselves. One very distressed mum enjoyed a few drinks to help her with the long night supporting her son. Older people welcomed having a reassuring chat as they were in unfamiliar surroundings. We had questionnaires which we helped the patients fill in, if appropriate, to see if they needed any help or support at home and particularly after they had left the hospital. We identified a couple of people who may benefit from access to other services.

Many people, staff, patients and relatives asked us about being a volunteer and why we were doing it. This is the main question of this column. Why do something for nothing? I felt I knew the answer as I left the hospital at midnight with a smile that I might have made someone’s long night ahead a little better.