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14.02.19

Maximising volunteer potential in hospitals

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

Sam Ward, director of commissioned services at the Royal Voluntary Service, argues that the right training can help harness the power of volunteering in the NHS.

Royal Voluntary Service has been supporting the NHS since it was created, offering comfort to patients and helping keep hospitals moving. We have over 6,000 volunteers supporting the NHS currently, and 14,000 more in the community.

These generous individuals perform a variety of roles, from providing companionship and encouraging older patients to do gentle exercises, to offering reassurance to those waiting in A&E and helping people to settle back home after a hospital stay. We also have many volunteers serving patients, NHS staff, and visitors at our many hospital shops, cafés, and trolleys.

We know the valuable contribution volunteers make to improving patient experience and patient flow. But until now, little has been done to understand how NHS frontline staff value the contribution of volunteers and how they feel volunteers can best support them.

We recently worked with The King’s Fund and our partner, HelpForce, to explore this very subject, surveying NHS staff for the very first time.

As hoped, the findings showed strong support for volunteers amongst frontline NHS professionals. The majority of those surveyed said volunteers provide an invaluable contribution, helping to improve patient experience and reducing pressure on staff. There was also an appetite for volunteers to get involved in more aspects of hospital work.

Nevertheless, the report also highlighted some challenges, challenges that need to be overcome if we want to continue scaling up voluntary service in hospitals.

The main challenge was a lack of clarity over role boundaries between staff and volunteers, with the report suggesting a need for better training and greater joined-up working.

Recommending how this might be achieved, The King’s Fund referred to the guidance from NHS England on managing volunteers. The guidance suggests more support is needed for staff working with and managing volunteers to equip them with the skills, knowledge, and experience they require to do their work.

From our perspective, key to the volunteer bedding-in process is opening up an effective line of communication between staff and volunteers from the outset. A critical part of our hospital and on-ward volunteer training programme includes meeting key personnel on the wards. Our volunteers will also often participate in training courses run by the trust’s own volunteer teams to ensure adherence with the hospital’s standards and policies.

We often hear from the trusts we work with that our volunteers have become an integral part of their team, with staff and volunteers working alongside each other with ease. Our volunteers have also undertaken specific training to help support nursing staff where they need it most – for instance, completing patient feeding courses to help out at busy meal times.

Indeed, with the right training, volunteers could be utilised in a variety of non-clinical ways. But it is up to volunteering organisations like ours to use our experience to help maximise and fulfil this volunteer potential.

Working hand in hand with trusts, we can support them to develop an effective volunteering strategy: one that empowers staff to work effectively with volunteers, and also delivers impact on patient experience and alleviates stress on staff teams.

 

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