Health Service Focus

25.02.20

Royal Voluntary Service: The power of NHS volunteers

Sam Ward, Deputy CEO and Director of Services, Royal Voluntary Service, explains why one year on from the Long Term Plan, NHS volunteers are more important than ever

Last year, the NHS Long Term plan announced a commitment to double the number of volunteers in the NHS in the next ten years. With the NHS under increasing strain, including from a growing ageing population, it is more important than ever to support patients and staff. One way that the Long Term Plan laid out to do this was through integrated volunteer services.

We are now a month into the new decade and the time is ripe to begin to prioritise volunteering across the NHS. This will ensure the current (and changing) population’s healthcare needs are met through delivering the Long Term Plan.

The good news is that there has been growing recognition of the significant value of volunteers in hospitals. The evidence of success is widespread and we are not the only organisation championing the increasingly important role it plays. The King’s Fund recently published findings revealing over 90% of nurses believe volunteers ‘add value to patient experience’.

Volunteers can support hospitals in many different capacities, offering benefits for both patients and staff. Their remit can include anything from retail services to on-ward support. They can also offer a more specialist role in assisting patients with exercise and encouraging hydration and nutrition, especially at mealtimes. Evidence shows that volunteer support sees positive outcomes in terms of patients’ mental and physical health. From our on-ward clients, 59% said they felt physically and emotionally healthier and 88% said they felt happier.

As a result, a volunteer service also increases speed of patient recovery time and reduces readmissions. One hospital saw readmission figures of 9.2% for those aged 85 and over compared to the national average for those 75+ which is around 15.3%. Nurses have also stated that volunteers are able to provide support that allows them to focus on their core responsibilities and therefore free up time.

Despite the benefits of NHS volunteers being widely acknowledged, we know that resourcing and recruiting a full service is not always straight-forward. This is partly because the wide range of volunteer roles are not always easy to identify and place. Even when they are, it can seem difficult to integrate new resource in a long-term capacity and to guarantee projected funding for the service.

That’s why Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) looked closely at these challenges to try and provide sustainable solutions. In response we developed and launched a new financing model called ‘Step Up’. It will enable Trusts and Health Boards to use the money raised through our hospital shops, cafes and trolleys, to fund the on-going management and delivery of high-impact volunteer support.

With a wealth of experience in volunteering and working in hospital environments, we can help Trusts and Health Boards to identify where the volunteer support could be most beneficial, in the ways that will best suit a hospital’s needs. Then, on-going for the life of the relationship, the sustainable revenue means that Trusts and Health Boards can be sure that the support will always be there for staff and patients alike.

Using a sustainable model is one way that hospitals can answer a policy need and make a change that helps the progress of the Long Term Plan. With the current social care climate, the value and impact of volunteers is non-negotiable, and thinking about how your hospital can start to use them and fund them is the first step to achieving the plan.

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