Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need volunteers in the NHS?

Reliable and safe volunteers can help provide better experiences for patients, and free up more time for healthcare workers to focus on delivering the incredible work they’ve been trained to do. At Helpforce, we want to harness the power of dedicated and caring volunteers to create a more compassionate care system for all of us. We know that volunteering is good for the people being supported, health and social care services, charities, the volunteers themselves and the community as whole. While there are thousands of volunteers already carrying out vital work in the NHS, there is so much more we can do.

Are volunteers replacing staff roles?

Volunteers never replace roles that are for staff – instead they provide extra help that wouldn’t be covered by a paid for role. NHS Trusts need volunteers as they provide a valuable support role to busy staff and patients who are going through a difficult time. Volunteers can make the difference to someone’s day by providing simple but significant support. We have a charter agreed with Unison which you can see here.

What is the minimum number of hours I have to commit to?

Many hospitals ask volunteers to commit to a minimum of three consecutive hours a week. Some may offer the option of one day a month for six months. You can of course ask to do more hours. NHS staff have told us that for volunteers to make a difference, they need them to commit to at least this time as this gives them continuity and a reliable source of help.

Can I choose which hospital I want to work in?

Yes, through Helpforce Live, you will be able to search for volunteer opportunities within a 30 mile radius of your home. Please remember that there are more volunteer opportunities than we have listed, and if your hospital isn’t listed you should contact them directly to see if they have something available for you.

Will there be lots of questions and forms to fill in?

The form on this site is very simple. Then when your volunteer manager gets in touch they will want to find out more about you. and they will supply you with their form. If you both agree that you want to proceed and become a volunteer you will have simple health and criminal record checks – these are called a DBS check and an Occupational Health check. You may also be required to provide a reference, and the NHS organisation will provide training for you. All of this is important for patient safety. Your data will be fully protected throughout.

What is a DBS check?

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) have merged to become the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). CRB checks are now called DBS checks. A DBS check enables employers to access the criminal records of current and potential employees to confirm whether they are suitable to work with vulnerable adults and children. It is a legal requirement and can take some time to complete. DBS checks are absolutely essential for all volunteers that are going to be working with patients to ensure the safety of both patients and volunteers.
Each NHS organisation will have its own policy on individuals who wish to volunteer but who have a spent criminal conviction. Each case is different and therefore it is best to discuss this when you reach interview stage with the trust.

What is an Occupational Health check?

Occupational Health check is a term used to describe the simple employee health screenings required by employers. This helps to establish any health conditions that may impact on your ability to volunteer. Most NHS organisations have their own local policies for managing health assessments, but they are usually very simple and straightforward, such as filling our a form to confirm any existing health issues you may have. These health checks help ensure that volunteers are safe and able to work in the healthcare environment.

Will I need to get a flu jab?

Each organisation will have an individual policy on flu jabs, but it would be sensible to get one. You will be able to find out more about this when you are going through the application process at the NHS organisation you are referred to. The NHS organisation will also advise on who covers the cost of the jab.

What training will I be given?

Training varies between organisations, but all your training will help keep you safe, and give you the skills to make you feel confident when volunteering on a busy ward with staff, patients and their families.
A training session might include some or all of the following: Health and Safety; Fire Training; Equality and Diversity; Safeguarding; Conflict Resolution; Information Governance; Infection Control.
Training will vary based on the role you are taking up and the role specific requirements to enable you to undertake the volunteering activity safely and effectively.

Will my expenses (such as travel and parking costs) be covered?

Each organisation locally will have its own expenses policy. We therefore recommend that you discuss this with the volunteer manager when they are in touch with you.

Is a uniform provided?

Volunteers usually wear T-shirts or uniforms, provided by the NHS organisation, that identifies them as volunteers. We would recommend that you discuss this with the Volunteer Coordinator when you have been placed.

Are there any dress requirements or restrictions?

All NHS organisations will require volunteers to adhere to their infection control policies. You may therefore be asked to remove your watch, wear long hair tied back, wear short sleeves or have them rolled up as far as your elbows etc. This will be explained to you by the Volunteer Coordinator when you are placed locally.

Do I need particular skills or qualifications to qualify?

No, NHS organisations are looking for volunteers who are willing to learn. Whilst all your skills will be useful, you will be provided with training for the roles that you are going to complete.

How long will it be before I hear from the volunteer manager?

We are keen that you can start volunteering as soon as possible, but we hope you appreciate that the process may take several months. Once we have put your NHS organisation in touch with you it can take up to three months, and in some cases six months, before you start volunteering. This is mainly due to the length of time it takes to make the necessary health and background checks, and completing relevant training – all of which is key to ensuring that volunteers are safe and reliable.

How is Helpforce funded?

Helpforce is a non-profit organisation funded through grants and donations. Money from Helpforce goes to helping NHS organisations work with more volunteers and helps them develop new and innovative volunteering roles. We are a small team and working in partnership with other volunteering organisations to achieve this.

I have submitted an application but have not heard back?

You should have received an email thanking you for your application. Please check your email spam box just in case it has gone there in error. If you haven’t received it, please email [email protected] and we will check that your application was logged.

What is the maximum age permitted for application?

We haven’t put a maximum age as there are many examples of older volunteers doing great work.

What is the minimum age permitted for application?

The minimum age is 16. However, not all NHS organisations are able to take volunteers until aged 18 due to their own policies. If you are aged 16-18 we will do our best to place you with a local NHS organisation but please note that opportunities are more limited for this age group. #iwill and the Pears Foundation are together aiming to increase the number of volunteering opportunities for young people – you may wish to visit their website here.

I have mobility issues, can I apply?

Yes, please apply. The NHS welcomes people with skills that are useful and can accommodate those with mobility issues, and/or long term conditions.

Why do I have to apply through Helpforce, rather than going straight to the hospital or trust?

You don’t have to apply through Helpforce – you can go directly to your local NHS organisation and apply to them. You will be able to find more information from your local NHS Trust’s website.

How else can I help if I can't commit to volunteering?

You can donate to Helpforce, and help fund our work. We will use all the money raised to help support hospitals create new volunteering roles, and bring more volunteers to their wards.

I have a spent criminal conviction - can I still apply?

Each NHS organisation, and charity, will have its own policy on individuals that wish to volunteer but that have a spent conviction. Each case is different and therefore it is best to discuss this when you reach interview stage.

If I am out of work and receiving benefits can I still volunteer?

Yes, we welcome people in and out of work. Often volunteering gives people new skills and increases their confidence, helping them back in to work. In general, volunteering should not affect benefits payments. However, we would recommend that you check with your benefits advisor if you are unsure.

If my application is rejected can I appeal?

Before a volunteering role can be undertaken, background checks and training needs to be completed. The volunteer coordinator will also assess your suitability for the volunteering roles available. If there are no suitable roles for you at this time, you may wish to consider looking at other volunteering options which may be more suited to you, such as through https://do-it.org/

How many people currently volunteer in the NHS?

The latest estimate is that 78,000 people volunteer in NHS hospital trusts, but the figure is much higher across all parts of the NHS. There are roughly 1.5 million people employed in the NHS.

What happens if I need to withdraw my application?

If you wish to withdraw your application, please email us at [email protected]