The view from the front line

4th December 2018

Volunteers in hospitals play a vital role in improving the experience of patients and relieving pressure on frontline staff, according to a new report from The King’s Fund.

The report, commissioned by Royal Voluntary Service and Helpforce, is based on a survey of nearly 300 hospital staff in England including nurses, doctors and support staff, the first time that NHS frontline staff have been surveyed for their views about volunteers.It finds very strong support for volunteering among frontline staff, who report that hospital volunteers provide vital practical help such as picking up medicines and doing tea rounds, as well as companionship, comfort and support to patients – ‘bringing human kindness to a busy ward’. This frees up time for pressurised frontline staff to prioritise clinical care, improving staff experience as well as the patient’s experience of care.

Key survey findings include:

  • 90 per cent of staff believe volunteering adds a lot of value for patients and 74 per cent said they also add value for staff.
  • A third of respondents said volunteers provide essential reassurance and company to patients
  • Almost one in three frontline staff felt volunteers free up their time to focus on clinical care
  • 82% nurses stated they enjoy working with volunteers
  • A high proportion of frontline staff interact with volunteers regularly – half had done so in the past week.

The report follows the recent announcement of a partnership between Royal Voluntary Service and Helpforce to explore how to scale up the number of volunteers in the NHS to ease pressure points. Interest in the role of NHS volunteers has grown in recent years, and volunteering alongside other forms of social action, is expected to feature in the NHS long-term plan due to be published this month.

The authors also identify a number of challenges hospital staff face when working with volunteers, the biggest of which is a lack of clarity regarding the boundaries between the roles of staff and volunteers. Some staff raised concerns about the potential to rely on volunteers too much in services that are increasingly under pressure. Staff also felt volunteers would have more impact if they themselves were provided with better training and better knowledge of the role of volunteers.

The report makes a number of recommendations to NHS trust leaders to help them maximise the impact of volunteers in their hospitals, particularly those at board level with a strategic responsibility for decisions about volunteering. It calls for all NHS acute hospital trusts to have an adequately resourced volunteering strategy and to ensure frontline staff are trained and empowered to develop supportive working relationships with volunteers

For more information, read the full report The role of volunteers in the NHS: Views from the front line