How volunteers are helping patients and staff get the very best from the NHS

15th May 2019 | by Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett

Helpforce was set up in 2017 to shape the futureof volunteering in the NHS. Since then, we have seen thousands more volunteers sign up, and a growing commitment by health leaders to integrate volunteering in our health and care. We are delighted that NHS England, an early supporter of Helpforce, has made volunteering a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Working in partnership with NHS Trusts we measure ways strong volunteer roles can create more time for healthcare workers to focus on delivering the incredible work they’ve been trained to do; more support for patients at a vulnerable time; and better experience for the volunteers. Our work with pioneering Trusts show the many ways volunteers are a vital pillar of support.

It can be simple things that make a big difference. Volunteers at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust contributed to the reduction of ‘Did not attend’ rates by around 50 per cent by providing appointment reminders. At  West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, volunteers providing transport services saved patients a total of more than 16 hours of waiting time from the point of discharge to going home. And 96 per cent of patients who were offered mealtime assistance at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust accepted it.

Through creating innovative roles, and measuring them, we are strengthening the case for healthcare leaders to integrate the ways volunteers can provide meaningful support to our NHS staff. Recently, 93 per cent of staff at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust said that volunteers saved them time to concentrate on their core roles. The volunteers are getting great benefits; staff observed a 53 per cent increase in the confidence of young volunteers at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. More insights like these can be found in our reports. They prove the importance of investing in volunteer support and training; the need for volunteers to be well integrated with staff teams; and the crucial role of leadership and governance.

Our new Volunteering Innovators Programme, started in 2019 with twelve trusts, gives us the opportunity to scale and share even more inspiring and effective volunteering initiatives across the United Kingdom. We received a huge number of applications from trusts wanting to become part of this programme, which is a testament to the great work already underway across the NHS and the enthusiasm for the development of effective volunteer roles. Working closely with leading trusts, voluntary sector partners and NHS England, we are creating a future where safe and reliable volunteering in the NHS is part of our everyday lives, helping patients and our brilliant frontline staff to get the very best from the health service.