Health Service Focus

15.10.19

Thinking bigger about volunteers

Source: NHE: Sep/Oct 19

Mark Lever, chief executive of Helpforce, explains why doctors need to think seriously about volunteers and the role they can play in improving the NHS system.

Volunteers have played an important role in the NHS since it began, which is why we are heartened to hear that doctors believe there is room for their roles to grow to help address future challenges. 

Our new report with economics volunteering charity, Pro Bono Economics, has found that doctors, and the public, fully support the scaling-up and wider integration of volunteering initiatives across our health services. Of doctors and GPs surveyed in the report, 81% agree there is room for more volunteers to play a part in the NHS. The opportunities are huge. 

This view is also evidenced in the growing national conversation on our Helpforce Network, a platform which connects healthcare professionals and volunteer managers across the country to share their experiences of bringing volunteers to every part of the patient journey. 

As the NHS pushes forward with a new digital transformation strategy in order to meet record demand for its services, over half of the 1,000 doctors surveyed say that the NHS would derive most benefit from tech-literate young people who could teach patients to use new technologies and better manage their existing conditions. 

A GP from South Wales told us: “I deal with the very elderly, many of whom struggle with even basic technology. Someone to support them to use current technologies would be the best use of volunteering.”

While another from the East Midlands said: “Volunteering, which is a relatively low tech, inexpensive resource is underutilised and has not been promoted adequately, which is a huge shame given the wisdom and wealth of expertise available.” 

We are used to volunteers helping in caring roles of feeding, reading and accompanying patients on their healthcare journey; but they can also bring other skills. 

Doctors told us that more skilled volunteering will enable the health service to pursue new avenues of enquiry and give them access to a pool of people that do not ordinarily feel they can either contribute, or that their skills would be easy to accommodate. Skilled volunteer roles that doctors say may potentially benefit the NHS include: 

  • Project managers who can play a role either implementing new IT or developing and scaling volunteer services
  • Data analysts to work on large and complex health datasets
  • AI and robotics experts to improve productivity of staff, or to innovate in the fields of health and social benefits
  • Economists who could help NHS trusts demonstrate the societal benefit of new innovations and secure future funding from government
  • Lawyers who could help trusts and practices in developing positive strategies to reduce legal challenges against them 

With the recent focus on young volunteers in the BBC2 programme, The Big Hospital Experiment, we are pleased to see younger volunteers realising the benefits volunteering brings. Of the generation of under-25s we surveyed, of which nearly half have volunteered in some capacity over the last 12 months, most say their motivation to volunteer is to improve their self-worth, get out more, make new friends, and give something back to society. More importantly the perspective of younger people and the skills they bring will provide fresh insights on the challenges facing all of us. 

As the NHS Long Term Plan makes clear, volunteers are vital to the future success of the NHS; and we know there is a huge public appetite for volunteering in the health service. In one month alone we recruited 34,000 new volunteers, many of whom have valuable professional skills to bring to their volunteering roles, complementing the compassion and comfort they provide every day – whether directly or indirectly – to patients. 

As GPs, doctors, nurses, and other staff in the NHS embrace the valuable roles volunteers play, the team at Helpforce is working with our innovative partners to ensure volunteers are trained and given roles that have the power to make a difference to all our lives. If we work together we can seize the opportunities outlined in this report so that we will all benefit. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Tw: @help_force

W: www.helpforce.community

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