Health Service Focus

22.08.19

NHS volunteering providing valuable contributions

Source: NHE: Jul/Aug 19

Sam Ward, director of commissioned services at the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), explains the benefits that a well-designed and implemented volunteer programme can have for hospitals and staff.

We’re now over halfway through the year which started with the release of the much-anticipated Long Term Plan. At the Royal Voluntary Service, we were pleased to see it prioritised NHS volunteers and recognised the results that well-designed programmes can deliver. 

In the six months since it was launched, we have seen some progress. In April, our partner Helpforce and others announced a charter showing how volunteers can make a valuable contribution to the NHS in England, without undermining paid staff or affecting patient safety. Additionally, we launched a successful recruitment campaign encouraging everyone to step forward and volunteer. This follows our partner Helpforce’s own recruitment drive at the end of last year that led to more than 33,000 people pledging to volunteer with the NHS. 

All of which means now is an ideal time for us to consider how to work together to ensure the NHS continues to develop its relationship with volunteers. For us, this means volunteers should support where there are gaps and avoid overlapping with paid roles, instead demonstrating new ways to meet need. In addition to traditional support like providing comfort and companionship for those who don’t have other visitors to service sign-posting in the discharge lounge or A&E departments, volunteers can lead exercise groups, provide specialist support for patients with dementia or give advice on hydration and nutrition. 

We know there is NHS appetite for this, and that when implemented the outcomes are strong. A recent King’s Fund report showed 70% of staff think volunteering in hospitals adds value for staff. Volunteers support staff by freeing up their time to prioritise clinical care and by acting as an extra pair of hands or eyes, relieving pressure. 

The same King’s Fund report showed 90% of staff believe volunteering adds a lot of value for patients. Volunteers improve patient experience in hospital, aiding recovery after a stay on a ward, helping older people to stay fit and active and build meaningful social connections. The impact of volunteer services speaks for itself. From our on-ward clients, 59% said they felt physically and emotionally healthier, 88% said they felt happier and 70% said it had helped them access services in their community. Additionally, over three quarters of those using our home from hospital service said they felt happier. 

The Long Term Plan aims to prioritise and scale well-designed initiatives that seek to make a tangible difference to patients, their hospital journey, and their discharge. By strategically developing these volunteer initiatives and creating the right space and atmosphere for these services to flourish, we will achieve truly integrated care. 

There is more that hospital leaders can do to fill the gaps by involving volunteers. With wide-ranging skill sets, volunteers have the ability to alleviate pressure points for hospitals, helping staff and patients alike, and creating a supportive and efficient environment. The first step of this is to consider where best volunteers can add value to your hospital and then work to grow and train a volunteer service. 

At the RVS, we offer the ability to use retail services to support on-ward or home from hospital volunteers. This method links the patient support volunteering services by using the profits made from the charity’s shops, cafés and trolleys to fund the upkeep of the additional volunteer services. This offer can ensure sustainability through retention in volunteers due to consistency in funding for their services. 

With the target of increasing our integrated use of volunteers in 10 years, we need to be doing more planning now. If we can achieve what the long-term plan sets out, we will then be facing a future where patients are supported beyond their basic health and care needs, and staff are able to deliver highquality work, focusing on their NHS remit. 

The success of integrating volunteer services needs continuous planning, resources and support, all alongside incorporating local expertise. It is only with this clarity and effective training, that volunteers can fulfil their potential within the NHS. The last six months have been an exciting start to what we may see from NHS volunteers in the next 10 years.

For more information

Tw: @RoyalVolService

W: www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk

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