Butterfly Volunteer service expands at NNUH

The service offered by Butterfly Volunteers at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is expanding, with more volunteers reaching more patients. By the end of January, the team of more than 50 specially trained volunteers will not only support patients at the end of life on wards, but also in the Emergency Department as well as other patients receiving palliative care.

The hospital first introduced Butterfly Volunteers in collaboration with the Anne Robson Trust in 2019. Butterfly Volunteers give their time to provide comfort to patients who are identified as being in their last days, weeks, or hours of their lives. They provide invaluable support and companionship to patients and relatives at this difficult time. Volunteers can talk, read, or play music to patients, and support relatives and carers. They can simply sit with patients who may not have any visitors and let them know they are not alone.

After a successful recruitment drive the team has grown from around 30 volunteers to more than 50. In addition, some of the volunteers have also undergone specialist ‘mouth care’ training. As part of their new role, they will help to keep patients mouths clean and moist and crucially ensure that their dignity is maintained in their final days and weeks. This recognised care is needed in patients at the end of life when patients tend to mouth breathe. The Butterfly Volunteers will also advise families how to carry out the care and can escalate the care to nursing staff if needed.

Caroline Stevens, Butterfly Volunteer Co-ordinator, said: “Offering mouth care which cleans and cleanses the mouth is a priority in end-of-life care, to help keep the mouth moist, hydrated and comfortable. It’s an important addition to the Butterfly Volunteer role, giving patients dignity in their last few days, and it’s also a lot nicer for families and loved ones.”

From the end of January patients will also start to see Butterfly Volunteers present in the Emergency Department every morning and afternoon, sitting with any patients at end of life who come into hospital. Their role will be to support patients and their loved ones, and to maintain the Lilly suite, a dedicated quiet space for patients who are admitted to ED at the end of life.

Butterfly Volunteers will also now be supporting palliative care patients across the hospital as well.

Caroline added: “Our Butterfly Volunteers do an amazing job at talking and listening to patients who are at the end of life, so we thought why not offer the service to palliative care patients who may have similar worries or questions. It also means our patients can get to know our Butterflies if they meet them later in their hospital care.”

Helen Attwell, ED Matron and Bereavement Lead, added: “We look forward to introducing the Butterfly Volunteers to the Emergency Department, playing an integral role in end of life and palliative care. The Emergency Department can feel like a chaotic environment however the introduction of the Butterfly Volunteers will bring a sense of calm, support and companionship to patients, relatives and staff at this difficult time.”

NNUH Chief Nurse Prof Nancy Fontaine, the Trust Board lead for End of Life and Bereavement, has been a patron of the Anne Robson Trust since the inception of the charity, and was instrumental in introducing Butterfly Volunteers to NNUH and previously the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. She said: “It has always been my ambition to grow, develop and nurture our Butterflies to ensure that no-one dies alone, wherever that may be, and to make sure that we support families and carers at this difficult and emotive time. The expansion of the Butterfly service and their role is making that dream a reality.”

Notes to editors:

Palliative care is provided to patients with a life-limiting (terminal) illness. Although it can include end of life care, palliative care is much broader and can last for longer. End of life care is a form of palliative care patients receive when they are close to the end of life.

Pictured left to right are Butterfly Volunteer Co-ordinator Caroline Stevens with Butterfly Volunteers Chris Blazeby and Leila Stubbs and ED Matron Helen Attwell.

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