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Palliat Med. 2013 May;27(5):428-36. doi: 10.1177/0269216312453608. Epub 2012 Jul 24.

A narrative literature review of the contribution of volunteers in end-of-life care services.

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International Observatory on End of Life Care, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.



Volunteers are integral to the history of hospices and continue to play a vital role. However, economic, policy and demographic challenges in the twenty-first century raise questions about how best to manage this essential resource.


This narrative review explores the recent literature on end-of-life care volunteering and reflects upon the issues pertinent to current organisational challenges and opportunities.


The parameters of the review were set deliberately wide in order to capture some of the nuances of contemporary volunteer practices. Articles reporting on research or evaluation of adult end-of-life care services (excluding prison services) that use volunteers and were published in English between 2000 and 2011 were included.


Seven electronic databases, key journals and grey literature databases.


Sixty-eight articles were included in the analysis. The articles were drawn from an international literature, while acknowledging that volunteer roles vary considerably by organisation and/or by country and over time. The majority of articles were small in scale and diverse in methodology, but the same topics repeatedly emerged from both the qualitative and quantitative data. The themes identified were individual volunteer factors (motivation, characteristics of volunteers, stress and coping, role boundaries and value) and organisational factors (recruiting for diversity, support and training and volunteers' place in the system).


The tensions involved in negotiating the boundary spaces that volunteers inhabit, informality and regulation, diversity issues and the cultural specificity of community models, are suggested as topics that merit further research and could contribute to the continuing development of the volunteer workforce.

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