As the NHS turns 70, North Devon District Hospital’s longest serving volunteer says the service has got much friendlier with age.

Doreen Hornagold has been volunteering at the Barnstaple hospital for 31 years, spending that time wheeling the library trolley around the wards.

The 82-year-old has spent three days a month handing out books ever since volunteering with a friend more than three decades ago, and has no plans to stop yet.

She said: “Things have changed in the way things are a lot more friendly than they used to be. Now everyone uses Christian names rather than ‘Mrs Brown’ for example.

“There was a time when we wouldn’t be allowed on the ward if the doctors were doing their rounds.

Doreen Hornagold has been volunteering at North Devon District Hospital for more than 30 years. Picture: Matt SmartDoreen Hornagold has been volunteering at North Devon District Hospital for more than 30 years. Picture: Matt Smart

“It’s not so formal now and much more friendly.”

The library service, which relies on donated books, has come a long way from its big wooden trolley with heavy wheels. As well as books, the service run by eight volunteers also includes magazines, reflecting reduced stays for most patients.

For Doreen, it’s not so much about the lending of books as it is about interacting with the patients.

“We spend a lot of our time in wards with the patient,” she said.

“Apart from seeing if they want books and magazines, we also do a lot of chatting – we try to speak to every patient if they are well enough, even if they’re not interested in books.

“I think it’s very important. Even those that don’t read books will talk about something else.

“It lets them get away from their medical problems and talk about other things.

“I’ll do it as long as I’m able to, because I really enjoy it, and it can help somebody or brighten their day.”

Ian Roome, head of fundraising and volunteering, said: “Doreen is a very special lady. She is totally committed to making a difference and is always quick to deflect praise, she says as long as the patients are happy, she’s happy.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the amount of work she has done over the years – and still continues to do. She’s an inspiration to us all.

“Our volunteers work tirelessly at the hospital supporting our wards, departments and our fundraising team, and each and every one of them makes a real difference to our staff and patients.”

If you’re interested at volunteering, email ndht.volunteer@nhs.net or call 01271 313933.