Objective Volunteers are an important resource in bridging palliative care (PC) services and communities. However, no studies have systematically mapped volunteers’ actual contributions to PC provision and how well they are supported by healthcare services at the volunteer level. Such insights are important to shape and optimise supportive environments for volunteering in PC. This study aimed to describe organised volunteering practices in PC across dedicated PC services and healthcare services providing generalist PC, in terms of tasks, training, supervision and how volunteers evaluate these.
Methods A cross-sectional postal survey of 2273 volunteers from healthcare organisations providing care for people with serious illnesses in the Flemish healthcare system (Belgium) was conducted between June and November 2018. A two-step cluster randomised sample was used. Volunteers were recruited through their respective volunteering organisations.
Results Response was obtained for 801 (35.2%) volunteers. Volunteers were predominantly women (75.5%), retired (70.8%) and aged 60–69 years (43.4%). Almost all volunteers provided psychosocial care (96.3%). Volunteers were found to provide either (1) broad volunteer support, emphasising psychosocial and existential care and signposting tasks or (2) narrow volunteer support, emphasising nursing care tasks. Nursing home volunteers had the lowest prevalence of PC training (7.7% vs 53.7% total, p<0.001).
Conclusions Multidimensional support was most prevalent among dedicated PC volunteers, while practical support was most prevalent among sitting service volunteers. Results indicate that volunteers can offer complementary support for patients with serious illnesses, although this requires training and consistent supervision. This is currently suboptimal for volunteers in nursing homes and community home care.