Volunteers in specialist palliative care: a survey of adult services in the United Kingdom

J Palliat Med. 2014 May;17(5):568-74. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0157. Epub 2014 Jan 29.


Background: Worldwide, the demand for specialist palliative care is increasing but funding is limited. The role of volunteers is underresearched, although their contribution reduces costs significantly. Understanding what volunteers do is vital to ensure services develop appropriately to meet the challenges faced by providers of palliative care.

Objective: The study's objective is to describe current involvement of volunteers with direct patient/family contact in U.K. specialist palliative care.

Design: An online survey was sent to 290 U.K. adult hospices and specialist palliative care services involving volunteers covering service characteristics, involvement and numbers of volunteers, settings in which they are involved, extent of involvement in care services, specific activities undertaken in each setting, and use of professional skills.

Results: The survey had a 67% response rate. Volunteers were most commonly involved in day care and bereavement services. They entirely ran some complementary therapy, beauty therapy/hairdressing, and pastoral/faith-based care services, and were involved in a wide range of activities, including sitting with dying patients.

Conclusions: This comprehensive survey of volunteer activity in U.K. specialist palliative care provides an up-to-date picture of volunteer involvement in direct contact with patients and their families, such as providing emotional care, and the extent of their involvement in day and bereavement services. Further research could focus on exploring their involvement in bereavement care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cost Control / methods
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospices / economics
  • Hospices / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / economics
  • Palliative Care / organization & administration*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • United Kingdom
  • Volunteers* / classification
  • Volunteers* / statistics & numerical data
  • Workforce