League of Friends at Prince Phillip Hospital Llanelli

Interview with Ken Rees

Although the situation is changing daily, the government’s lockdown rules have emphatically changed how we are able to interact with each other and, consequently how we are able to help those in need. The impact of this has been felt far and wide. Despite restrictions, the dependable volunteers at the League of Friends at Prince Phillip Hospital Llanelli have been determined to carry on their work. These dedicated volunteers spend their time raising funds for the Prince Phillip Hospital, aiming to make a sustainable long-term difference to patient care. The funds are used to provide additional services, facilities and equipment for patients, visitors and staff, allowing hospitals to stretch their patient care beyond NHS funding. For volunteers, this also allows them to give back, to meet new people, gain new skills and contribute to cohesive and positive community spirit. For Prince Phillips in particular, gifts have included care trolleys, televisions, Bariatic chairs, contributions towards green light laser for prostate ultrasound scanner, Came for patient movement in restricted places and pressure gel cushions to name but a few.

However, during the pandemic sustaining this amount of support hasn’t always been easy, with stringent restrictions on hospital visits in particular. As Ken Rees, secretary of the League of Friends at Prince Philip Hospital Llanelli explains - “we haven’t been able to give gifts, we haven’t been allowed to go into the hospital. It’s been difficult”.  However, volunteers have met these restrictions with resilience. As Ken explains, “we have adapted and just done things in a different way. We couldn’t meet because we were barred from going into the hospital so we telephoned each other to ensure we were staying in touch. We sent an email to the senior nurse and confirmed her to go ahead and purchase entertainment and quizzes and things for people.” Entertainment such as puzzles and games can be a push for our already stretched NHS, but are still pivotal for patient wellbeing. They provide a welcome distraction, and can be a fantastic way for patients to get to know each other.  These small luxuries go a long way in making a stay more comfortable and welcoming. With staff often focused on other issues in the hospital, it can fall upon volunteers to coordinate and provide resources such as these, and despite the pandemic volunteers have still ensured this aspect hasn’t been neglected. This is even more pertinent in times where small acts such as getting to the local shop to buy gifts has been challenging, and when patients are unable to receive their usual gifts from friends and families. Acts such as these are also vital in showing that, despite visitor restrictions, those in hospital are still being thought about and cared for by others.

In addition, Ken explains that the group “are working towards amalgamating the hospital radio group with the League of Friends, that will benefit from each others activities.” Although the main hospital radio is managed by David Ford, distancing measures have prevented him from going into the hospital for this. Combatting this, he’s been controlling the hospital radio at home, broadcasting on the waves and on the internet; as Ken says excitedly, “people from all over the world are listening to this radio now.”

Outside of the hospital volunteers have continued their vital teamwork and social connecting. Ken explains that “meeting up has made volunteers feel that their jobs are still vital. We’ve definitely kept in touch with each other. A few of us have even come to my house to have a chat on the lawn - well spaced and socially distanced of course!”. For the volunteers, the group and the work carried out is an active and fulfilling part of their lives that has carried on in this rural, community-led part of Wales. This adaptation and determination to work just as hard in the face of adversity is reassuring in such unprecedented circumstances, both for hospital patients and the wider community.  As Ken reassures of the volunteers, “we’re still active, people are still giving”. In these pressing times, acts such as these show that the values that bring us together are always more powerful than the things that separate us.