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Episode 1

Fourteen young people start their first week volunteering for a radical social experiment at the Royal Derby Hospital to deliver patient care on the NHS frontline.

At the heart of the NHS are the nursing staff, who care for one million patients every 24 hours across Great Britain. These unsung heroes are at the frontline of the health service, facing the ever-stretched reality of an unprecedented staffing crisis and patients with more complex needs than ever before.

This series follows one hospital in Derby which is trialling an innovative social experiment based on a scheme in Germany. Their aim is to find out whether young volunteers can help relieve the pressures of staff on the wards and make a positive difference to patient care.

Fourteen 18-24-year-olds have signed up to volunteer at the Royal Derby Hospital for six weeks. None of them have worked on a hospital ward before and some are yet to have a full-time job of any type. They are mentored by senior nurse Karen, who is monitoring their progress and assessing whether the scheme could work long term for the NHS. Karen has been qualified for 32 years and hopes that the new volunteers have the resilience to handle life on the wards. 'Working in the NHS is a constant daily battle. There is not enough staff to care for patients'.

The volunteers won’t be parachuted into the wards completely unaware. Before they are allowed near patients it is the job of clinical educator Andy to train them. It is a big job and he is feeling the pressure. 'I’m very nervous. They could kill somebody'.

They have got two weeks in the classroom to learn everything from taking blood pressure readings to using hoists and making beds. Afterwards, they are sent out to six of the hospital's busiest and most demanding wards where they will be faced with the harsh realities of what patient care really means to seriously sick patients. Will they be able to make a difference, carrying out essential healthcare tasks from personal care to patient observations?

21-year-old Deborah and 19-year-old Poppy are sent to the colorectal ward, where they work under the watchful eye of sister June, who knows this isn’t a job for everyone. Patients on this ward are treated for diseases of the stomach and colon, and Deborah’s first task is to assist healthcare assistant Margaret clean a leaking stoma bag. Will she be able to face her fears and provide care, or will she be completely overwhelmed?

Sister Crystal also receives two volunteers onto the head and neck ward. Law student Charlotte excels at chatting with patients and assisting with care but Crystal fears for Erik, who has only ever experienced the inside of a private hospital. She worries that Erik could be 'too posh to wash' as he struggles to make tea and carry out personal care.

Will and Fin, both 19 years old, are allocated to the cancer ward, where they are faced with patients in different stages of the disease. It is a tough ward and the staff know that it is a very demanding both emotionally and physically, so when word gets back to sister Nicola that Will feels that the work that they are given isn’t challenging, hospital staff are left feeling that maybe the boys just aren’t trying hard enough.

The other volunteers settle into wards on the hospital, as clinical educator Andy and senior nurse Karen meet with the chief nurse Cathy. Together they assess the volunteer’s progress and whether this scheme could work for the Royal Derby Hospital. But with concerns already being vocalised throughout the wards, will these volunteers be a more of a hindrance than a help? And with such a mixed cohort of young people, 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?

59 minutes

Last on

Wed 16 Oct 2019 02:05

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Role Contributor
Narrator Daniel Rigby
Composer Wayne Roberts
Series Producer Rachael Barnes
Executive Producer Sarah Spencer
Director James Bainbridge
Production Company Blast! Films
Production Manager Nancy Rushforth
Editor Amanda Baxter
Editor Diane Bernhardt
Editor Jacob Proctor


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Discover the life-changing benefits of volunteering

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