New and short-term volunteering opportunities at Katharine House can sometimes appear out of nowhere, such as the lateral flow testing (LFT) programme that was run at the hospice for three months early in 2021. A group of volunteers worked with the clinical team to develop a safe and effective procedure, which once again enabled family members and friends to see their loved ones in the inpatient unit.

Helen Hill is one such volunteer who is usually seen on reception at weekends. When we started developing the LFT programme, Helen leapt at the opportunity to be a part of the project. We interviewed her to find out more.

How did you hear about Katharine House needing volunteers to help with the COVID-19 testing programme for visitors?

The position for LFT volunteers was advertised in the volunteer newsletter.

Why did you put yourself forward?

During the pandemic and lockdown, I volunteered for the NHS responder scheme and also supported a local pharmacy to deliver medicine. I wanted to make use of my time constructively and support my local community. Given my relationship with Katharine House Hospice as a weekend volunteer receptionist and that I was available at weekends, I wanted to contribute to this programme.

The testing would support the hospice but most importantly would allow family members, friends and related visitors to see their loved ones, especially as this had been extremely limited during lockdown and, at times, not possible at all.

What was involved when you were preparing for the testing?

Initially I had to undertake a programme of online training. This training demonstrated how you carried out the tests and included wearing of PPE, greeting visitors, explaining the process to the visitors, the safe procedures prior to, during and after each test, how to support the visitor when taking the test, cleaning of equipment and workstations, and recording of results on the gov.uk website.

I had to take a test for each section of the online training and, upon successful completion, I was given a certificate to confirm I was qualified to undertake lateral flow testing.

Before the programme was launched at the hospice, I worked with another volunteer to discuss how we would carry out the tests. I volunteered to have the test as if I was a visitor so that we could run through the process together to ensure we were comfortable with the process and arrangements. Any questions or observations noted were forwarded to the Volunteer Manager to liaise with the nursing team to ensure that all aspects were covered.

"I felt incredibly proud and privileged to have the opportunity to volunteer and support the lateral flow testing for visitors."

What did the role entail? What did you do during a shift?

The day before I did a shift with the lateral flow testing, the Volunteer Manager would let me know how many visitors I would be expecting and if I would be accompanied by another volunteer. As we became more practised, up to four visitors would be managed by each volunteer.

On arrival, I would change into scrubs, and also wear a face mask, surgical apron, gloves and visor. All work stations would be cleaned, and the respective test areas would be set up. Kidney bowl, lateral flow, test tube, device, timer, laminated card to record visitor name and time test was taken, swab and extraction solution were all laid out.

On arrival, visitors would be greeted and welcomed by the volunteer. Each visitor would be asked some questions about their general health and if they had been in contact with anyone with COVID-19. Each visitor was also requested to complete a consent form. They were then asked to don a surgical face mask, apron and gloves and were guided into the bay and I would carry out the test. I’d then set to cleaning the bay and respective areas before the next test.

During the 30-minute waiting time, I would talk to the visitors to make them feel welcomed and comfortable. Then as soon as we had the result and it had been recorded, I accompanied the visitors to the ward and introduced them to the ward staff for them to then visit their loved one.

How did it make you feel?

I felt incredibly proud and privileged to have the opportunity to volunteer and support the lateral flow testing for visitors. The process had a few initial teething problems, but given the vast task and short amount of time that staff and volunteers had to set up, learn and implement the programme, it was incredible.

I wanted to make a contribution and support Katharine House Hospice and felt that this was ‘my little bit’ in assisting with these arrangements to allow family, friends and related visitors to see their loved ones. I was pleased and humbled to be involved in this rewarding opportunity.