The Renal Arts Group (RAG) at QUB has developed guidelines for involving volunteers
The Renal Arts Group (RAG) at Queen's University Belfast was formed in 2016 as a collaboration between patients with kidney disease, carers, clinicians, academics and artists to develop a programme of research with the ultimate aim of improving the physical and psychological quality of life of those living with kidney disease through the medium of the arts (Renal Arts Group 2020). The group aims to give a voice to patients living with kidney disease, increase public engagement and improve social impact through interdisciplinary collaboration between academics, researchers, healthcare staff, policy makers and service users. In 2019 RAG Co-Chair Dr Helen Noble, along with RAG members Dr Claire Carswell and Anna Wilson, undertook an initiative to develop guidance for implementing volunteer-led arts activities for patients undergoing haemodialysis.
The initiative builds upon Dr Carswell’s PhD study, which consisted of a pilot feasibility trial of an artsbased intervention for patients receiving haemodialysis. The study aimed to address quality of life and mental health of patients who have end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) and are receiving haemodialysis. The pilot trial found that art can be safely implemented in this clinical setting, that the intervention was highly acceptable and that it improved the treatment experience for both patients and staff. Patients reported positive experiences including increased self-esteem, development of a sense of purpose, feeling happy and increased social interaction, and healthcare professionals reported to have experienced improved communication with patients during the study.
Traditionally, arts in health programmes are facilitated by professional artists who are employed as an artist-in-residence within a hospital or healthcare trust, who often undertake larger collaborative projects within different areas of the hospital or trust and have limited time to dedicate to each units’ specific needs. In order to facilitate undertaking a programme of arts activities with individual patients, the research team, in consultation with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT), took the decision that trained volunteers would be well placed to support the work of the artist-in-residence, whilst being able to spend longer periods of time with individual patients to focus on skills development and ensure sustainability and engagement of the arts intervention.
The research team undertook regular consultations with members of the project advisory group, including volunteering and healthcare professionals from the NHSTC, to develop a guidance document outlining the implementation of a volunteer-led arts programme that could be replicated in renal units across Northern Ireland and the UK. The team worked collaboratively to identify key considerations required for the guidance document including training requirements for potential volunteers, a description of the volunteer role, recruitment strategies for the post and governance and standards considerations.
The initiative originally planned to develop guidance for direct one-to-one bedside facilitation of arts activities, however due the restrictions imposed by the pandemic the guidelines now reflect the need for virtual volunteers who can offer one-to-one facilitation over telephone or video calls. While restrictions due to the pandemic have significantly relaxed in the UK, patients with ESKD remain vulnerable to the threat of Covid-19 and the need for virtual volunteers may continue for the foreseeable future. The team held a virtual workshop and focus group with renal healthcare professionals, patients, artists and representatives from arts and health organisations and renal charities to refine the guidance, gather feedback and inform our dissemination strategy. The guidelines have been disseminated online and are supported by an informative and engaging animation and infographic developed in partnership with research communications agency Science Animated.
The associated documents and media are available for download from the Renal Arts Group website www.qub.ac.uk/sites/renal-arts-group/Research/VolunteerGuidelines/
More information on Dr Carswell’s PhD study: