Doctors urge the NHS to think bigger about the skills volunteers can bring

3rd August 2019

  • 81% of doctors say skilled volunteers in the NHS, people who volunteer their professional skills would benefit patients
  • 56% of doctors say the NHS would derive most benefit from tech-literate young volunteers who could teach patients to use new technologies and help drive the NHS’s digital agenda
  • The number of volunteers in the UK could more than double as the online generation (under 25s) look for human connections and new purpose in their lives
  • 28% of people who currently do not volunteer would prefer to use their professional skills in their volunteering roles

To help safeguard the NHS’s future, most (81%) doctors say that volunteering roles in health should be expanded to include people who can bring their professional (non-clinical) skills with their personal skills to their volunteer roles2 – a new report by charities Pro Bono Economics and NHS volunteering charity Helpforce has found.

An estimated three million volunteers are already active in health and care, and NHS England is gearing up to grow its volunteer workforce from 80,000 to 156,000 over the next three years.3

But as the NHS pushes forward with a new digital transformation strategy in order to meet record demand for its services, over half (56%) 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. One GP from South Wales commented: “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 or supported by politicians and their media acolytes. This is a huge shame given the wisdom and wealth of expertise available.”

Other skilled volunteer roles that doctors deem potentially beneficial for the NHS include:

  • Project managers who can play a role either implementing new IT or developing and scaling volunteer services (36%);
  • Data analysts to work on large and complex health datasets (32%);
  • AI and robotics experts to improve productivity of staff, or to innovate in the fields of health and social benefits (31%);
  • Economists who could help NHS trusts demonstrate the societal benefit of new innovations and secure future funding from government (26%);
  • Lawyers who could help trusts and practices in developing positive strategies to reduce legal challenges against them (23%).

Doctors question whether anyone wants to volunteer with their professional skills for free, yet over one in four people who do not currently volunteer would prefer to use professional skills in their volunteering roles

Although the majority of doctors would like to see volunteering roles expanded, some have concerns that the volunteers themselves would not want to give their professional skills for free. “Volunteers may have some use, but what is the evidence that employed professionals have the time, reliability or will to offer anything meaningful to the NHS?”, said one doctor from Leeds.

In a separate representative survey of 2,000 people by charity Pro Bono Economics, over one third of Britons (36%) say they have volunteered in the last 12 months by helping groups, clubs and organisations – such as the NHS and charities – in an unpaid capacity. But this figure could nearly double in the future as four in ten (43%) of people who currently do not volunteer say they would do so in the future if they had more free time. Of those 1,200 people who currently do not volunteer, nearly half (46%) say they would want to volunteer using their personal skills, while 28% would prefer to use their professional skills. The idea of ‘professional volunteering’ is particularly attractive to the younger generation: 34% of under-35s who answered this question liked the idea, compared to 23% of over-55s.

The generation of under 25s, of which nearly half (47%) have volunteered in some capacity over the last 12 months, say their motivation to volunteer is: to improve their self-worth (61%); get out more (60%); make new friends (56%), and give something back to society (53%).

Professor Sir Michael Richards, CBE,  Chief Inspector of Hospitals in the Care Quality Commission from 2013 to 2017

“Volunteers have always played an important role in the NHS, but until recently the scope of their activities has been limited within many trusts. As the NHS Long Term Plan makes clear volunteers are vital to the future success of the NHS, but we need to be much more imaginative when it comes to the roles they take on. It is therefore heartening to hear that doctors and the public fully support the scaling-up and wider integration of volunteering initiatives across our health services. We now need to seize this opportunity so that we can all benefit.” 

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England and co-founder of volunteering charity Pro Bono Economics, commented:

“As technology continues to transform our current and future working lives and working habits, people will be drawn to an even greater extent than in the past to purposeful activities which use and develop both their EQ and IQ skills. That includes volunteering in the NHS or in charities.  Doing so enhances people’s lives and wellbeing, improves the effectiveness of charities and the NHS, and creates much-needed social capital for societies. Pro Bono Economics’ research shows that that there is clearly an appetite among citizens and doctors who work in the NHS to take volunteering to the next level.”

■ Doctors say that volunteering is beneficial to the volunteers too

Over half (51%) of doctors surveyed say that people under 25 are the group most likely to benefit from their volunteering role, as it would teach them valuable life skills and people skills. According to doctors, established professionals who would most benefit from increasing their EQ by volunteering include: politicians (45%); employees of major tech companies (23%); management consultants (22%); civil servants (16%); economists, journalists and lawyers (14%); bankers (13%), and employees from social media firms (10%).

Dr Zoe Penn, MD FRCOG, Chief Medical Officer & Responsible Officer, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust commented:

“In the NHS we are used to volunteers helping in caring roles of feeding, reading and accompanying patients on their healthcare journey; this is an extension of all our roles as good citizens and members of our communities. Skilled volunteering will enable the health service to pursue new avenues of enquiry and give us access to a pool of people that do not ordinarily feel they can either contribute, or that their skills would be easy to accommodate. More importantly the perspective of younger people and the skills they bring will provide fresh insights on the challenges facing all of us. An example of this would be delivering high quality accessible healthcare in new and innovative ways in the future by up skilling older people to interface with services better or giving us fresh insights into our work.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive Officer of Helpforce, a new organisation using the power of volunteering to improve health and wellbeing, commented:

“This is a timely report, as we know there is a huge appetite for volunteering in the NHS. Over the last five months alone we have 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.

With 81% of doctors and GPs agreeing there is room for more volunteers to play a part in the NHS, the opportunities are huge. This is evidenced in the growing national conversation on our Helpforce Network, a unique 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 GPs, doctors, nurses, and other staff in the NHS embrace the valuable roles volunteers can play, we will ensure volunteers are trained and given roles that have the power to make a difference to all our lives.”

Read the report

Ends –

For queries, interview/case study requests, or regional breakdown of survey figures across the UK, contact:

SENSO Communications – Penny Lukats – 07775 992350  [email protected]

Helpforce – Beth Vaughan – 07508 769 996 [email protected]

NOTES TO EDITORS

References

  1. About the YouGov survey. Total sample size was 2022 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th and 17th May 2019.  The survey was carried out by YouGov online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  2. About the Mede Connect Healthcare Insight Survey. Total sample size was 1,004 doctors: 203 GPs and 801 SCs.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th April and 2nd May 2019 by Mede Connect Healthcare Insight
  3. Volunteering guidance for NHS providers https://www.england.nhs.uk/participation/resources/volunteering-guidance/

About Pro Bono Economics:

Pro Bono Economics helps charities and social enterprises understand and improve the impact and value of their work, matching professional economists who want to use their skills to volunteer with charities. Set up in 2009, Pro Bono Economics has helped over 400 charities large and small, covering a wide range of issues including mental health, education, employment and complex needs.

Pro Bono Economics is supported by high-profile economists, including Andy Haldane (Bank of England), Sir Dave Ramsden (Bank of England), and Clare Lombardelli (HM Treasury) as Trustees, and Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge), Kate Barker, Lord Jim O’Neill, Robert Peston, Martin Wolf and Lord Adair Turner as patrons. Lord Gus O’Donnell has been Chair of the Board of Trustees since September 2016.

probonoeconomics.com @ProBonoEcon

About Helpforce

Helpforce is a charity, using the power of volunteering to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the UK. It wants to help double the number of volunteers working in the NHS by 2021, and see a recognisable improvement in the range and quality of volunteer roles available to support patient care in hospital and at home.

Helpforce was formally established in 2016 and both its Board and Advisory Board includes leaders from across the NHS, voluntary and wider public sector.