Prohibit, Protect, or Adapt? The Changing Role of Volunteers in Palliative and Hospice Care Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic. A Multinational Survey (Covpall)

Document Type : Original Article


1 International Observatory on End of Life Care, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

2 Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre, Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Hull, UK

3 Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation, King’s College, London, UK

4 The Martin House Research Centre, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK


Volunteers are common within palliative care services, and provide support that enhances care quality. The support they provided, and any role changes, during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are unknown. The aim of this study is to understand volunteer deployment and activities within palliative care services, and to identify what may affect any changes in volunteer service provision, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multi-national online survey disseminated via key stakeholders to specialist palliative care services, completed by lead clinicians. Data collected on volunteer roles, deployment, and changes in volunteer engagement. Analysis included descriptive statistics, a multivariable logistic regression, and analysis of free-text comments using a content analysis approach.
458 respondents: 277 UK, 85 rest of Europe, and 95 rest of the world. 68.5% indicated volunteer use preCOVID-19 across a number of roles (from 458): direct patient facing support (58.7%), indirect support (52.0%), back office (48.5%) and fundraising (45.6%). 11% had volunteers with COVID-19. Of those responding to a question on change in volunteer deployment (328 of 458) most (256/328, 78%) indicated less or much less use of volunteers. Less use of volunteers was associated with being an in-patient hospice, (odds ratio [OR] = 0.15, 95% CI = 0.07-0.3, P < .001). This reduction in volunteers was felt to protect potentially vulnerable volunteers, with policy changes preventing volunteer support. However, adapting was also seen where new roles were created, or existing roles pivoted to provide virtual support.
Volunteers were mostly prevented from supporting many forms of palliative care which may have quality and safety implications given their previously central roles. Volunteer re-deployment plans are needed that take a more considered approach, using volunteers more flexibly to enhance care while ensuring safe working practices. Consideration needs to be given to widening the volunteer base away from those who may be considered to be most vulnerable to COVID-19.


Main Subjects

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Volume 11, Issue 10
October 2022
Pages 2146-2154
  • Receive Date: 12 April 2021
  • Revise Date: 27 August 2021
  • Accept Date: 06 September 2021
  • First Publish Date: 08 September 2021