Press release: Hospital's 'super' volunteer role improves mealtimes and mobility for older patients

Mealtime assistantA ‘super’ volunteer role developed by staff at Southampton’s teaching hospitals has been recognised nationally for improving mealtime and mobility support for older patients.

It was created in 2017 as part of a national project with Helpforce, an organisation set up to improve and expand volunteering in the NHS, and funded initially by NHS England.

More than 70 volunteers were taken on to help improve nutrition, hydration and movement among older patients across University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust during their admissions.

The volunteers received training from the speech, language and dietetics team to develop the mealtime helper role, while physiotherapists and other clinicians led on mobility support.

As part of the role, volunteers help open packaging and encourage patients to eat and drink, cut up food and ensure the right cutlery is available. They also support them to carry out daily exercises or assist with walking around wards.

In reports released today (Monday) by Helpforce, which has worked with four other NHS trusts across the country over the past year to introduce a variety of new opportunities for volunteers, analysis shows 96% of patients accepted mealtime assistance over the course of the project.

In addition, patients provided with support ate, on average, 53.3% of their main meals and desserts.

“Being part of this pilot project with Helpforce enabled us to further develop ways of supporting our patients around three key areas – befriending, support at mealtimes and mobility,” said Carrie Smith, voluntary services manager at UHS and an author of the key learnings report Developing innovative volunteer services in the NHS.

“We are extremely proud of the pioneering work around mobility which was based on research undertaken in Southampton by Dr Stephen Lim in medicine for older people and progressed by senior therapist Hannah Wood.”

She added: “Throughout the programme we have supported and engaged with other trusts by sharing our learning and we are now keen to look at further ways to help support and improve our patients’ experiences by involving volunteers to complement other services.”

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, founder and chair of Helpforce, said: “The positive findings from our work with five trusts demonstrates the real difference that volunteers can make for patients and staff and we are excited to build on this so that more people can benefit more quickly.”

For more information on volunteering at UHS, visit

Posted on Monday 11 February 2019