Bedside butterflies

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The Butterfly Companion Volunteer Service is now a key part of end-of-life care at Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT).

A year-long pilot project funded by the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Charity has proved so successful that Butterfly Companions have been integrated into the Trust’s core service offering.

Around 20 specially trained volunteers support dying patients and their families. Known as Butterfly Companions, their role is to provide comfort, compassion, and companionship at a very difficult time.

The butterfly concept is the brainchild of the Anne Robson Trust – a national charity that partners the RCHT team.

Eleanor Buckley, from Truro, was appointed RCHT’s Butterfly Companion Coordinator in February 2023.

“I work closely with our chaplains and the Specialist Palliative and End of Life care team to identify people in need of our help,” she said. “We sit with patients as they approach their death and give loved ones some respite when required.

“The Anne Robson Trust mantra is ‘no-one deserves to die alone’ and that’s what we’re here for.

“Being with someone who is dying is an emotionally intense experience and each of our volunteers is carefully selected and trained to deal with the situations they’re likely to face. It’s not something anyone can do, but our volunteers are amazing and really do make a massive difference.”

Group of 5 ladies in purple t-shirts - the Butterfly Companion Volunteers and co-ordinator

Glynis is a Butterfly volunteer.

“The first time I came in I sat with a patient who squeezed my hand when I spoke gently to her,” she said. “On my second shift my presence enabled the patient’s daughter to feel she could take a break and go home to check on her elderly father. I knew this would be a special volunteer role, but I wasn’t prepared for what a privilege it would feel to play a small part in supporting a patient at this time.”

Liz Pryor, MBE, founded the Anne Robson Trust in memory of her mother.

“The RCHT Butterfly Volunteering service has really hit the ground running,” she said. “We’ve all been so impressed by how enthusiastic and receptive RCHT are and that they truly see the value in this service. This has been reflected in their visits and the number of patients they have supported in such a short space of time! Working with Ele and the team is a joy, and we hope to see the Butterfly Companion Volunteering Service continue to grow.”

Stephen Williamson, Chief Executive of RCHT, is similarly enthusiastic.

“This is an incredibly important way of supporting our patients and our families, at what can be a very challenging time,” he said.

 “It’s a fantastic service that has an extraordinary impact.”

For more information about the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Charity that funded the Butterfly Companion Volunteers pilot, visit https://charity.royalcornwallhospitals.nhs.uk/

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