The Carer Support Team was set up in 2014 by Suzanne Boon, a parent who had experienced regular stays at Watford Hospital with her child. She observed that carers were often at hospital alone with their child without a 24/7 support network, and they were stressed and faced sitting beside their sick child for very long periods of time. Isolation was an issue which was increased if a carer’s first language was not English.
The Carers Support Team (part of the West Herts Hospitals Charity) has since grown to 20 volunteers who provide practical and emotional support to carers with children in Starfish Children’s Ward and since 2017 in the Emergency Department too. We’d like to expand our service to the Special Care Baby Unit in the near future.
The pressures of delivering care in today’s busy NHS means that health care professionals struggle to deliver practical and emotional support to carers. We believe our service is crucial to a more family-centered approach to care in NHS Children’s Services. Given increasingly tight resources and the need for quality care, harnessing the power of volunteers is more important than ever. We hope that hospitals across the country will replicate our successful model and we’re always happy to talk about how we did it.
Although funding to support carers is evident at many hospitals with specialist care or intensive care units, we are not aware of another volunteer team like ours operating in an NHS hospital.
We’re already working in partnership with the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH) to help them replicate a Carer Support Team by sharing our experience. We’ve also been visited by Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire who are keen to follow our lead.