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Meet some of the volunteers who keep Ipswich Hospital running

PUBLISHED: 05:00 16 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:08 18 March 2019

(l-r) Romaine, Margaret and Joyce who are there to help at Outpatients reception. Picture: LJM

(l-r) Romaine, Margaret and Joyce who are there to help at Outpatients reception. Picture: LJM

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There are nearly 350 people working as volunteers at the hospital. Our reporter found out more about what they do there...and why.

Volunteer Michael Blowes. Picture: LJMVolunteer Michael Blowes. Picture: LJM

Every day, thousands of people go in to Ipswich Hospital.

Many are health professionals; there are, of course, patients and visitors; there’s the office and catering staff, the people who run the in-hospital shops. And then there are the volunteers... who have been acknowledged as vital to the work of the National Health Service.

They are people who choose to be there, who offer their time, free of charge, to help with the smooth running of an urban hospital which is the size of a small town. In fact, with around 8,000 people, it just about matches the populations of Needham Market, Holbrook and Trimley put together.

The volunteers offer a friendly but unobtrusive service. Go into Outpatients, as hundreds of people do each day, and you may be greeted by a volunteer who will be happy to help you register or find the department you are heading for.

Jay Miller, fundraiser. Picture: LJMJay Miller, fundraiser. Picture: LJM

If you find yourself in Accident and Emergency (A&E) and need to talk to someone other than a member of staff, look for the person near the entrance with a lanyard and name tag - that’s your volunteer.

Just after Christmas I found myself in A&E when my dad (now fine) was taken in by ambulance. There was quite a wait before the medical team arrived but, in the meantime, someone popped their head into the cubicle and asked dad (first checking if he was okay to eat and drink) if he would like a cup of tea and a sandwich. A very good cuppa and an excellent ham sandwich arrived in no time at all. The diligence of the volunteers is amazing, all their time is devoted to the patients.

So I was already an admirer when I arrived at Ipswich Hospital to meet volunteers. I didn’t see all of them, of course but here are Mona, Derick, Michael, Margaret, Romaine, Joyce, Don, Kay, Jay and Ernie.

They talk to me about their roles in the hospital and their reasons for giving up their time to help others and help Ipswich Hospital.

Don Welham. Picture: LJMDon Welham. Picture: LJM

In the Diabetic Foot Clinic, I meet Michael Blowes who has been a volunteer in the clinic for nine years. When he first volunteered he was asked if he had a preference about where he would like to work and he said: “Anywhere.”

“I get the clinic room ready, make tea and coffee for staff and patients, talk to the patients - I get to know them. I run people about in wheelchairs - keep the place tidy.”

We talk in the small rest room/kitchen attached to the clinic which Michael, with a grin, calls his “domain”.

In his career as a chef, Michael worked in the West End of London and later became a catering tutor at Suffolk College. The year after he retired in 2010: “I felt I had to do something.

Ipswich Hospital outpatients entrance. Picture: ARCHANTIpswich Hospital outpatients entrance. Picture: ARCHANT

“My wife passed away with cancer in 2008. The oncology here was absolutely brilliant. I felt I had to give something back. I come in two days a week - I get in a 7am and leave at 12.30pm.

“They’re a smashing team (in the foot clinic). They really look after people.”

It is clear to me that Michael is very much a part of the team.

It is busy at Outpatients reception - it always is during the day, Fielding enquiries from those who have appointments − “How do I get to the eye clinic?”; “How do I book in?” − are the volunteer team of Margaret Weaver (a retired legal secretary), Romaine Elsden (who also worked as a legal secretary) and Joyce Edwards (formerly a school secretary) who between them have given nearly 60 years of volunteering.

Ernie Dawson. Picture: LJMErnie Dawson. Picture: LJM

The three friends have mostly worked at Outpatients but also had a stint in A&E. Like many of the volunteers they travel here from other parts of the county, Romaine from the north and Margaret and Joyce from near Woodbridge.

“We are the welcoming service,” say all of them. “Here to assist patients every way we can and try to answer their questions. People can be anxious when they arrive here... occasionally, they just want to talk.”

Each of the women felt they wanted to do something useful after retiring and each of them found their way here.

Romaine, who has been a patient at the hospital, says: “We love coming here.”

Kay O'Brian sorting out the food order for A&E. Picture: LJMKay O'Brian sorting out the food order for A&E. Picture: LJM

Margaret adds that she does not seek thanks but it feels good when people say ‘thank you’.

Don Welham, who was a teacher, arrives from the head and neck cancer clinic, where he has been a volunteer since November 2018.

“I was here as a patient with prostate cancer. When I came in and had my treatment, I thought volunteering would be a great thing to do. It’s good to have people, as well as staff, who are kind to you and smile. If you’re a volunteer, you can show a bit of empathy. It makes a difference.”

Don says he might see patients on a number of occasions. He weighs them, gives out questionnaires, and runs errands around the hospital (no mean feat, when you think of the miles of corridors). “I get a chance to chat to them (patients). “Small things can be a big help.”

Derick Holman in the Ipswich Hospital Radio studioDerick Holman in the Ipswich Hospital Radio studio

“It is humbling. There are people with serious things wrong with them and they’re getting on with life.”

We walk over to A&E where Kay O’Brian is surveying the contents of the fridge.

“It started when my mother-in-law came into A&E. My husband and I sat with her for most of the day and I saw what happened. I thought, ‘They are rushed off their feet’ and thought I wouldn’t mind being a volunteer.

“The first day, I was a bit daunted but in actual fact nearly all the patients are absolutely lovely.

Mona Burt Ipswich Hospital Radio broadcaster. Picture: IHRMona Burt Ipswich Hospital Radio broadcaster. Picture: IHR

“I do the water jugs and then we order food - sandwiches and biscuits. Our first priority is always the patients. A lot of people who come in are bewildered and we try to add a bit of normality to an otherwise traumatic day.

“The staff are lovely - I feel part of a community.”

The wider community will be aware of the fundraising hospitals do. The current campaign is to raise £2.5 million for the Blossom Appeal which will create a breast care unit where patients will have more privacy and much better surroundings. There will also be separate units for men and women. The fund broke through the £300,000 mark in its first year.

Jay Miller, lead volunteer on the appeal, has herself been a breast cancer patient. “I have been lucky - I didn’t have to have a lot of the treatments other women have to have. I am well.

“The call (for volunteers) went out when I was recuperating.”

Jay joined the Blossom Appeal in autumn 2017, when the campaign was launched. She is ideally placed for her role as she used to work in the fashion industry in London, organising catwalk shows and photo shoots. “Here, I try to coordinate outside community events.”

Mona Burt and Derick Holman are broadcasters and help to run Ipswich Hospital Radio trust. There are 42 people that keep the shows going for patients 24/7, with live broadcasts between 8pm and 10pm. Founded in 1971, many of its broadcasters have gone on to work in radio and TV over the years.

You might think, with modern technology, that patients have no need for a dedicated radio station but the figures speak for themselves. Mona, who wanted to do voluntary work after taking early retirement, says that on a typical Monday, her live programme gets 25 requests.

“Music brings so much pleasure in life, particularly when in hospital and feeling poorly and lonely,” she says.

Derick, who presents The Stretch, on Sundays at 6pm, says he had intended to do take an evening class in weather forecasting but the course was cancelled. So Derick phoned the hospital to ask if they wanted anyone to sweep the floors and was directed to Hospital Radio where he has now been for more than 20 years.

I admit to being a little footsore by now... having trekked from one end of the hospital to the other and back again but there is just time to talk to Ernie Dawson, a five-year volunteering veteran. He works with charities and is on a number of forums. One of them is working to get buggies − small vehicles − to operate around the hospital corridors. “They’re going to be delivered in early spring,” says Ernie (scotching my hopes for a lift back to the car!).

With volunteers in many public areas of the hospital, it falls to Robbie Payne, voluntary services coordinator to run the operation. He is also my guide and companion on this mission to meet the volunteers. He has worked in the NHS for 10 years and says: “I love it.”

“We currently have 350 registered volunteers and there are more people coming in all the time.”

“Many of them want to give something back; many of them are recently retired. They are the backbone of the volunteer service.

“What constantly surprises me is people’s commitment to it. A lot treat it like having a job.”

The longest serving volunteer has been here 45 years and there are a number who have done 20, 30 or more years.”

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