Before I became a hospital volunteer, I worked as a Senior Health Promotion Officer in the NHS. I was mainly involved in encouraging primary care to include prevention as part of their service. This is quite commonplace now, but it wasn’t 30 years ago. I was involved in projects on coronary heart disease, and breast, skin and bowel cancer.
I discovered RSVP through my partner, he was a Handyperson Volunteer with RSVP and introduced me to the concept when I retired. My main reason for volunteering was to continue my link with the NHS, which had been part of my life since I was 18. I was used to working with NHS personnel and the public, and knew I would miss it. I took a few months off when my eldest daughter died of a brain tumour but, needing to fill each day, I was keen to return.
I began my RSVP volunteering in a paediatric ward, and stayed there for nine months before moving to the main reception. Before Forth Valley Royal Hospital was built, I helped the paid receptionist. She was a charismatic and funny woman from Chicago, who used to regularly say to me: “if you need to know anything you just AKS me!”
Following the move to the new hospital, I was asked to lead the group of 10 volunteers needed to cover the desk. Working alone meant we rarely saw each other, so I organised a few lunchtime meetings and we have a lunch every few months. The volunteers are extremely committed and always text me to let me know if they are unavailable to cover a shift. A new, standby volunteer is proving very helpful.
We are much appreciated by the NHS staff, especially the receptionists at the three outpatient desks, as we direct 350-400 ‘lost souls’ each week to various clinics, minor injuries, X-ray and wards. Other duties include hunt the wheelchair, phoning for taxis and chatting to the lonely.
The only downside is the regular few who insist I must be bored or lonely. Volunteering is a great help in deterring both of these emotions, and I look forward to my half day ‘at the desk’ each week.