If ever there was a time that our health workers needed support it's now.
As our nurses, doctors and paramedics continue to navigate through difficult times, their workload is about to become worse as we enter the deadly flu season.
But there is one shining beacon of hope - volunteers.
This week Hunter New England Health told how hospital Pink Ladies, Maroon Men and other volunteers such as pastoral carers, were notably missed through the height of the pandemic.
Now they are back on deck and have helped buoy our exhausted health workers.
But there is still a need for more. The main prerequisites? A kind smile and a caring heart.
Hunter New England Health Lower Hunter Sector Volunteer and Community Participation Coordinator, Kim Simpson, said volunteers were integral in the recent move into the new $470m Maitland Hospital.
Whether it was loading paper into printers, assembling chairs and tables or just talking to lonely patients, the move would have been excruciating without them.
"They aid patient comfort," Ms Simpson said. "The value of the volunteer is that person who can stop for a moment and listen to a joke or talk about the view outside the window - just hold an everyday conversation."
There are also calls for consumer representatives - people who have been through a hospital experience either as a patient or carer and can tell health administrators how their experience could be better handled or improved.
This call for more volunteers is a timely one.
Recently members of the Nurses and Midwives' Association rallied for more staff, better working conditions and a much deserved pay increase.
But they are just one arm of a system screaming for help.
Australian Community Media published a special report in September which revealed a rural and regional hospital system which was under great duress - even before COVID hit.
Local health leaders told how they feared that post COVID lockdown, health services across the Hunter New England Health District would struggle to cope and already the cracks are appearing.
NSW Health considers its volunteers to be an essential and valuable asset to the delivery of public health services across NSW.
Their tireless and enormous effort directly supports and delivers better outcomes for patients, staff and visitors.
While our health volunteers can't provide care of a clinical nature, they can provide a different form of 'acute' care through comfort and compassion.
Lower Hunter Editor
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