AN APPEAL has been made for more volunteers to help vulnerable patients at mealtimes to ease pressure on nursing staff at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.

Terry Aldridge, 72, from Ringwood, who has worked as a volunteer at the hospital for more than two years, has become one of the first Mealtime Companions.

He explains: “When I retired I wanted to do something useful with my time.

“I do various jobs around the hospital but I particularly enjoy helping out at mealtimes as I like the close contact with the patients.

“I have been a patient here several times over the years myself and the care I received has always been very good so it is very satisfying to be able to give something back.”

Mr Aldridge works on ward 22, which has a maximum of 28 patients. Many are elderly with dementia.

He said: “There is quite a bit of responsibility, which is why you need to go on a training course first.

“You need to encourage patients to drink and you have to be careful not to put too much food in their mouths or else they will choke.

“Communication skills are also very important because some of the patients are deaf or have dementia.”

Ward sister Michelle Richards said: “I don’t know how we would cope without our volunteers. I would have them here day and night if I could, because they are absolutely vital to improving the patient experience.”