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Blood, sweat and volunteers – The Big Hospital Experiment

Karen Hill and young volunteers posing

A new BBC documentary will follow a group of volunteers as they take part in a social experiment, designed to test whether young people with no clinical experience can make a positive difference to patient care.

The four-part series, called The Big Hospital Experiment, will see a group of 14 young people, many of whom have never worked before, thrown in at the deep end as they venture out to work on six of the busiest wards at Royal Derby Hospital.

During two weeks of classroom training the volunteers were taught how to complete basic observations such as blood pressure, dementia care and how to support a patient and their family during end of life care. The volunteers were then assigned a clinical team and under direct supervision, used their newly learnt skills in a clinical environment with patients.

Throughout the documentary, the team are faced with the reality of caring for people with complex conditions who each have their own personal story; some thrive while others struggle with the emotional aspect of caring. Can anyone work in the caring sector, or does it take a certain type of person to handle the blood, sweat and tears of the NHS?

Executive Chief Nurse, Cathy Winfield, agreed to take part in the experiment to build on the Trust’s successful history of working with volunteers across five hospitals.

UHDB is recognised as one of the leading NHS trusts in the country for enabling volunteers to support the NHS, and was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2016.  

Cathy said: “Volunteers up and down the country, and particularly across our hospitals, provide an exceptional service to our patients and we couldn’t deliver the care we do without them.

“Nursing is such a rewarding career, despite the challenges, caring for another person it is the most rewarding thing you can do. While the focus of the experiment was to enhance and support the care our nursing teams can offer to our patients, many of the clinical volunteers have gone on to pursue careers in the NHS or related to health.”

During the six-week placement, the volunteers were mentored by Senior Nurse, Karen Hill, who ensured they made a positive impact on the wards. 

She said: “Most of the volunteers had never considered career in care so this experiment gave them an opportunity to explore their untapped skills. Many of them were surprised by how rewarding it can be to provide fundamental care for another person. They had the precious commodity of time which they were able to spend talking to patients and tending to their needs.

“I’m excited for everyone to see these young people overcome their fears and preconceptions to provide patient centred care to people at the happiest and saddest time in their lives.”

Cathy added: “Overall the experience has been really positive and we’re keen to build on its success and explore how we can support our future workforce by giving them access to voluntary clinical roles.”