Byline: ALEX HANNAFORD
Gordon Caris Hospital visitor GORDON Caris, 55, is a recovering alcoholic but has found solace in the volunteering department of his local hospital, Whipps Cross in east London.
EU-funded, the initiative helps the retired, youngsters and underprivileged or vulnerable people to look to the health service for possible employment. Work includes talking to, playing games with and even feeding patients and running a mobile library. It also encompasses a project to help refugees who are trained doctors or health professionals in their native countries to work under a volunteer scheme at the hospital towards getting the necessary UK qualifications.
Caris says the scheme has helped him by helping other people. "After years of alcohol abuse, you're in bits," he says.
"The last time I was at Whipps Cross was on Christmas Eve. I'd had a drink and fallen down. As part of my rehabilitation it was suggested that I look for voluntary work, so I spoke to Jacky Bass, who runs the volunteer scheme here, and she just had so much energy. Volunteering has done so much for me.
There are in-house caring courses you can do and it's great experience for youngsters interested in getting into medicine."
Caris ran his own McDonald's franchise before, but he said during his years of alcohol abuse he wasn't interested in doing anything. He now works every day at the hospital, 14 hours a week. On a Thursday he runs the mobile library but says most of his time is spent chatting to patients. "The starting age in my ward is 75 and they can't read either because they haven't got their glasses or are awaiting cataract operations, so a lot of them just want to sit and have a chat."
The rest of the week he works on reception in the main office, and one day a week on the patients' advice liaison desk. "I'm on income support so there's no payment involved. My recovery programme lasts two years and once that finishes I can apply for a job. I should imagine I'll apply for a job here.
The people are so nice and it's a really caring environment. It does me the power of good."
Caris says the conversations he has with patients are just everyday smalltalk, such as how they're feeling or whether they've been given a leaving date, but they love the chance to have a chinwag.
"I've never come across anyone who hasn't had anybody to visit, but for some, their relatives live quite far away so can't get to see them every day.
"It's a case of putting something back into the community. I don't mind them keeping me talking."
What it takes
NO formal qualifications are required but Gordon Caris says listening and communication skills are important.
Jacky Bass, head of volunteering at Whipps Cross, says: "I always ask people their strengths and limitations. If someone says he or she is pitifuly shy, it doesn't mean he won't be taken on as a volunteer; we'll just think about where we place him.
"Most hospitals have some form of volunteer scheme but we've dragged ours into the 21st century: we're not just giving out tea and biscuits."
For more information, contact Jacky Bass on 020 8535 6772.
Doctor and health adviser, Merlin
AS UK-based Merlin's health adviser, Dr Akeem Ali manages and oversees up to 30 healthcare projects in up to 11 countries on a daily basis.
He has plenty of qualifications and experience in the right areas. Since graduating in medicine from Nigeria in 1992, Ali has combined practical experience in hospitals and health centres in Nigeria, Ghana and the Congo with thorough postgrad studies.
He studied tropical medicine and hygiene, followed by health-management systems at Harvard and completed a postgraduate degree in public health in Holland. Ali knew he wanted to work for a public-health organisation and speculatively sent his CV to Merlin in 1999. …