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Friend of the Emergency Department, George Haffenden has become a familiar face among Thames Hospital’s A&E. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Two decades as a friend in ED

George Haffenden has become a familiar face among Thames Hospital’s A&E.
As a Friend of the Emergency Department [FED], George was one of the first seven volunteers that took on the role back when the service began in October, 2003.
“When we first started 20 years ago, this building was already 100 years old,” George told The Profile, sitting in a comfortable break room within the hospital.
“On that first shift, there wasn’t much to do because nobody knew what we were supposed to be doing – even though we were thoroughly trained.
“On my second shift, it started to get busy, and one of the staff members shoved me into a closet-like room and told me to keep out of the way.
“Now,” he said, “it’s the complete opposite.”
A friend of the ED provides comfort, information, and support of a non-clinical nature to patients – and their relatives – while they are awaiting or undergoing treatment in the emergency department.
It forms part of the Hato Hone St John Community Care structure, and George, who is 86-years-old, said the volunteer job is highly valued among patients and hospital staff.
“It feels good when you’ve been good to other people, and at the end of the shift, the nurses and the doctors say how much they appreciate it.”
George said volunteers do “all sorts of little odds and ends”, such as cleaning up the staff kitchenette, making beds and preparing rooms, helping to serve meals and hot drinks, and, rather importantly, sitting with and listening to patients.
He said the FEDs don’t go into rooms while patients are being seen by doctors, nor do they offer any medical advice.
He also said he doesn’t bring up discussion topics that could be controversial.
“I’m not there to raise their blood pressure,” he explained with a laugh.
After a long career as an inspector of factories, George was seeking out a volunteer job and lent a helping hand at other organisations across Thames before he discovered FEDs.
“I attend St George’s Church and one morning, the vicar in his notices said St John had started a new programme and was looking for volunteers, so I put my hand up.
“I’m 86 now and I’m not stopping – I enjoy it so much,” he said.
Thames’ Friend of the Emergency Department service was the third in New Zealand to come into fruition, following two successful Auckland ventures.
George said there were about 15 volunteer FEDs in Thames and more were needed to cover the four-hour shifts.
“My job is all care and no responsibility,” he said. “I’m really a comfort for patients and their visitors, and over my 20 years, there have been so many people who have been so grateful.”
George has received a long-service medal for his work and said the 20th year milestone was one worth celebrating.
DETAILS: To get involved with FEDs or to see how else you can volunteer for St John, visit