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West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds highlights the efforts of seven people and one dog during Volunteers' Week



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Volunteers' Week began yesterday to celebrate those who give their time for others.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has more than 200 volunteers who help out every day.

After Covid-19 stopped much of their efforts, the trust which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket Community Hospital is recognising their work.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is celebrating its volunteers. Pictures: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is celebrating its volunteers. Pictures: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

The Trust has also opened it books to new volunteers for the first time in a while.

To mark Volunteers' Week, it has highlighted the efforts of seven people – and one dog – who give their time and energy every week to help patients.

Here are their stories.

Keith Foss
Keith Foss

Keith Foss – endoscopy department

Keith has volunteered at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) for five years this month.

He was diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer and believes that if it wasn’t for the hospital’s quick thinking, he wouldn’t be here today.

“I was sick and tired of hearing about hospitals,” said Keith. “I went back to work for a year or so and I decided to retire and really wanted to give something back so I enlisted as a volunteer.”

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

Keith volunteers in the endoscopy department of the West Suffolk Hospital and his role sees him take samples to the laboratory, clean and tidy beds, transport patients from A to B as well as taking prescriptions to and from the pharmacy.

When asked what is the best thing about being a volunteer, Keith responds: “Friendship. I can relate to what the patients have been through.”

Mick Mellon
Mick Mellon

Mick Mellon – G8/stroke ward

Mick has been volunteering on the stroke ward at the West Suffolk Hospital for four years and started volunteering for the Trust after he lost his wife eight years ago to cancer.

He said: “Like many of the volunteers, I am doing what I am doing as a ‘thank you’ to the hospital. The hospital did everything they could do for my wife and it’s a way of me being able to give something back.”

Mick loves his role as a volunteer on the G8 stroke ward and has a close bond with his colleagues.

“I love what I do – cleaning the beds, making sure everything is safe for people to come in," he said.

"The people I work with is my family. If you are considering volunteering, come in and talk to the volunteer team.”

Mick added: “The amazing people I work with are the nearest thing to angels.”

Richard Courtnell
Richard Courtnell

Richard Courtnell – discharge waiting area

Richard started volunteering at the Trust around five years ago after attending an event at the Apex about diabetes; meeting the volunteering team after the event.

He said: “They were so enthusiastic about what volunteers do so I took an application form home to complete and the rest is history.”

Richard, who spent 28 years in the Royal Air Force, had previously volunteered for the Samaritans and said that meeting people from different backgrounds throughout his career helps his role.

"I have always found it easy to talk to people and engage if they want to talk, said Richard.

"Engaging with people, it’s amazing how often people want to discuss things with you and tell you about themselves. I will sit and speak to them as long as they want to.

"As part of my role I accompany patients to the exit when they are leaving and sometimes wheel them down there.

"I also help move patients from the ward to here. I ask them if they need something to eat or drink, and if they’re comfortable.

"My philosophy is - if I can do something that releases medical staff to do their work, I will do it.”

Topsy Nichol
Topsy Nichol

Topsy Nichol – day surgery unit

Topsy started volunteering in 2019. Previously she had worked at the Trust for nearly 28 years.

She said: “I had worked at reception in the day surgery unit for the last 3 years before retiring, and they were so supportive when they knew my husband was ill.

"When I lost my husband, I felt like I needed to do something when I got my head around everything – so the week I started volunteering here I also started walking netball and Zumba.

“The hospital has always been like my second family. Because my husband was under this hospital, I wanted to give something back for all they did for him. I love it here.

“I have done many roles. I started in 1990 in Thetford cottage hospital. I have been in medical records, a PA in paediatrics for 14 years and ended up here.

"I had taken my retirement and started on bank. I’m a people person and I thought this was ideal and it was a no brainer for me.

“On a normal day – there’s always something to do. It could be cleaning, getting someone’s snacks if they are with us. I go to the pharmacy if needed to.

“No two days are the same. The patients are always different – it’s a lovely team I get to work with and the hospital has a very good vibe about it.”

Jackie and Hattie
Jackie and Hattie

Jackie and Hattie the dog – pets as therapy

Jackie brings her dog Hattie to the stroke ward at the hospital every Wednesday.

Hattie is a therapy dog and every visit is greeted with joy not just by patients but by staff, too.

“We have been volunteering at the hospital for five years” said Jackie.

“It’s nice for people who are in hospital as it’s a bit of normality. You can see people’s faces change – they have a great big smile and they’ll change completely.

“I have owned collie dogs for over 50 years. They are very gentle dogs and they have a nice nature - they are lovely dogs. I like being able to bring a bit of joy to people – when they are in a situation that is not natural to them, away from their families and hopefully we can bring a little bit of joy to them.”

Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins

Eileen Collins – information desk

Eileen is a familiar face to many visitors to the hospital as she has been volunteering at the information desk for 17 years.

She helps visitors with directions to where they need to go, but also helps facilitate wheelchairs and getting people to where they need to be.

What inspired Eileen to get into volunteering?

"When I retired, I wanted to do something and keep busy," she said.

"I wanted to have something to get up for in the morning, once a week and I like to help the community. I’ve been able to meet lots of new people, I’ve made friends with other volunteers, like my colleague Jennifer here (who also works on the information desk). We go out together and meet up outside of work from time-to-time."

Before retirement, Eileen worked for BT as a telephonist and finds these skills useful in her volunteering role as she’s frequently answering the phone to help people.

Eileen loves her role at the Trust, adding: “It’s a very rewarding job, I feel like I go home and think ‘I’ve helped someone’. It’s nice to help people when they first step into the hospital get to the right place. Sometimes people can arrive quite distressed and I try to be that friendly face to help people feel a bit more relaxed about coming in. It’s a lovely job – I look forward to it every Wednesday when I wake up.”

Florence Bevan
Florence Bevan

Florence Bevan – Trust governor

“I have been a governor at the Trust for more than four years," said Florence.

"Prior to that, I was a volunteer at the hospital’s chaplaincy department for 10 years, in the Wedgwood and Macmillan units.

“That experience gave me an insight into the patient experience as well as the challenges for staff.

"I served also on the Local Research Ethics committee, discovering about the current clinical research in our area - fascinating as my background was medical sciences and a career as a medical herbalist.

“I am at heart a people person and a pioneer, never happier than at the coalface.

"Hence I had set up a charity in Albania after the Kosovan war, at one point finding myself on top of a mountain and surrounded by Serbian armed troops.

"I went on to found a humanitarian organisation in Myanmar and usually travel there to work twice a year but sadly the military coup has made it too dangerous.

"Teaching English in Elmswell funds my lengthy stays there.

“Learning the role of governor for me was a steep learning curve but an exciting challenge.

"I am not by nature a committee person but it is hugely interesting to be in the heart of the engine room and see the inner workings of the hospital and also to be able talk to staff and patients on the wards.

“I can highly recommend the role of a governor. This is a very exciting time at WSH as more and more the healthcare is becoming integrated and allied across the region.”