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St John FEDs voluntary work appreciated in PN Hospital Emergency Department

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​Being a patient in Palmerston North Hospital coming in through the Emergency Department about seven years ago Iris Keat appreciated the help the St John Friends of the Emergency Department (FEDs) offered her and her family.

When she recovered Iris thought it was something she could do to repay the service she received. She joined the FEDs, and later when the co-ordinator position came up she put her hand up to do that as well as regular four-hour shifts in ED. Now she rosters the 35 active FEDs to do three, four-hour shifts, each day, 10am to 10pm, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They have been a big part of the hospital ED scene now for around nine years.

Iris said: “We are there to comfort and support the patients during their time in ED. We do this by sitting and talking to them, giving drinks, and a blanket. We help the staff out doing non-medical jobs in ED. We all do one four hour shift a week and our aim is to have two FEDs on all shifts. We need around 50 FEDs so we can cover sick days and holidays.”

Full training is given to all new FEDs, who are put on with an experienced buddy for the first four shifts.

Iris said the big thing she gets out of being a FED is the satisfaction of helping people. “It has also given me a lot of self-confidence in doing the role. I was always a bit shy. A lot of FEDs tell you that speaking to people all the time builds self-confidence.

Iris fondly remembers a young girl who started with them aged 18. “She had never made a bed in her life. The only thing she knew was how to skateboard. She was told before starting that she had to read a newspaper before starting so that she had something to talk to people about during her shift. She persevered, and blossomed, and is now in Dunedin and has become a nurse, something she really wanted to do. We are very proud of that… and the fact that she did learn to make a bed.”

Husband and wife Barrie and Arlene Angland from Palmerston North have been FEDs as well for just over three years. They read a story that was about FEDs wanting new volunteers, and then heard radio publicity. “We have all had parents and others in here and appreciated the help. We said when we retired we’d like to give something back, and this was something we thought we could do.”

While Barrie is probably better known as a Manawatu rugby supporters’ stalwart; Arlene said ‘being a FED had also helped her build confidence – it pushed me to talk to people.’

They help patients on their own, those with no family support, through to families with supports, making life a little easier through ED and the hospital.

Barrie says ‘you just leap in – as you get older you can adapt more easily to the situation.’

Emergency Department charge nurse Iona Bichan is full of praise for the FEDs.

“The FEDs are a valued part of the wider Emergency Department (ED) team. When staff are too busy to spend the time to hold a lonely old person’s hand or find a good magazine to help pass the time, the FEDs are there with a friendly face and a helping hand. Tired parents welcome the assistance a FED can give when trying to keep sick children happy. People who have to wait for any length of time appreciate the company of someone with the time to have a chat. From 10am until 10pm, seven days a week, the FEDs are in ED doing their bit to make patients and their families more comfortable.

“Apart from attending to patient comfort needs the FEDs also do a lot of other little jobs to help out the busy ED staff.  Restocking magazines, keeping toys in order, making up beds, alerting nursing staff when a patient needs help: all these things help keep things ticking over in a department that is often crowded, noisy, and busy. 

“ED staff are very appreciative of the FEDs service and the difference they make for the patients and their whanau. The FEDs are a vital part of the ED service.”

FEDs have people available from around the region, including Levin, Foxton and Taihape.

Nationally there are about 900 St John FEDs volunteering in about 22 hospitals around New Zealand.

If you’d like to become a St John FED Iris says “all you need is common sense and about four hours a week. You don’t do anything medical – you just make sure the patients are comfortable. Age is not a barrier – presently they range in age from 18 to nearly 90. We’ve got quite a few men, numbers are building up, which is quite good.”

If you’d like to become a FED, contact 0800 785 646, or 027 4622770.


This week is National Volunteer Week, which recognises and celebrates the vital contribution of almost 1.2 million volunteers to social development, the economy, and the environment.

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