Robert has been volunteering with Healthwatch Haringey since March 2015, fitting in varied tasks in his time off from driving a London bus. This is his story.
I’ve been a bus driver since 1998, on the Tottenham Hill to Waterloo route, and wanted to switch career to social work or mental health. Following an Access to Nursing course at Tottenham College and a Health & Social Policy degree at London Metropolitan University I was looking for a health-related volunteering role.
I was introduced to Healthwatch Haringey at a Team London volunteering open day in Tottenham. As I have five children to support I’ve decided to put a job change on hold for the time being while gaining experience by volunteering.
My volunteering role at Healthwatch Haringey is very varied and very fulfilling.
I ‘mystery shopped’ five local GP surgeries in Haringey – you visit and look around, following a checklist. Then introduce yourself to a member of staff and ask questions, for example whether and how they register homeless people.
I also joined a team of volunteers and staff for a PLACE (Patient-Led Assessment of the Care Environment) Audit at the Whittington Hospital. We looked for cleanliness, good decoration and whether it was neat and tidy. Then we went ward to ward, checking things like whether the lights were working and so forth. We asked the patients about the food they were given - the choice offered and how healthy the menu was. We then got to try the hospital food ourselves – I thought it was healthy!
"Healthwatch Haringey gives me the chance to put into practice what I studied, so I take it very seriously."
Other tasks have been handing out Healthwatch Haringey leaflets at stations, and distributing leaflets and posters to Haringey pharmacies about the Carers’ Support Project.
I helped at a ‘Stay Well This Winter’ information event in Tottenham last December, directing participants and serving food. It was a very busy day.
I recently took part in a Healthwatch consultation meeting about social care for the elderly, and helped with a Healthwatch stall at North Middlesex Hospital.
Healthwatch Haringey gives me the chance to put into practice what I studied, so I take it very seriously. I’m informed of volunteering tasks by email and work out which will fit in with my bus driving shifts – for example I might go to a Healthwatch event in the morning and then work in the afternoon. Sometimes I swap driving shifts to allow for Healthwatch activities – my employers at Go Ahead London are helpful with this.
The most interesting and challenging highlight was the GP surgery mystery shopping because I had the opportunity to work on my own and write my own report – it’s important to take notes as you go along.
The results were encouraging – for example some surgeries had no suggestion boxes for patients, but when I returned these had been provided. Also, some had no poster informing patients of the procedure for making complaints, or it did not have large enough print – again I went personally to check this improvement had been made.
What could others gain from volunteering with Healthwatch?
A lot! Meeting nice people, talking with them, and getting to know other Healthwatch volunteers – we went out for a meal together at Christmas. It’s an opportunity to do something based on health to mention when applying for jobs.
I find that combining volunteering with work and family life isn’t stressful, as you can fit it around your other commitments. It's very fulfilling.