It is striking that many NHS organisations these days rely on volunteers to improve the experience of patients. Whether it is helping people eat, assisting with exercise therapy or reading to someone who is unconscious, the NHS volunteering has found many creative uses for volunteer time at the front line. The volunteers, for their part, get valuable experience to put on a CV or to find their way back to employment by giving their time for free. Volunteering in the health service can help with both.
The King’s Fund found in 2013 that 166 acute trusts benefited from the services of 78,000 volunteers who donated 13 million hours every year. The average trust had about 480 volunteers and spent £58k a year funding voluntary services.
Earlier this year our Savile ‘lessons learnt’ report found that King’s College Hospital in Camberwell retained the services of 1,750 volunteers. Seventy percent of them were under the age of 30. And 20 percent were men.
Many organisations still think there’s no cost to volunteers as they come for free. They’re wrong. This wave of generous effort needs managing. A hospital with 450 volunteers warrants a strategic plan guiding their use, executive director leadership, proper recruitment, induction and training and high-quality operational management.
I spoke at the annual training seminar of the National Association of Voluntary Services Managers (NAVSM) last Friday. I made the point that the NHS organisations planning a 25 percent increase in volunteer numbers over the next few years must build into their plans board support and proper management. I also argued that NHS voluntary services should aspire to achieve a kite mark from organisations such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations through their excellent Investment in Volunteers programme. Olivia Butterworth from NHS England, who also spoke, agreed and wants to work with NAVSM to bring this about.
Volunteering in the NHS has a long and illustrious history. Many volunteers today enhance the experience of patients by adding an element of care and attention professional staff cannot give. The novel and creative way volunteers provide care is great for patient experience and vital to NHS trusts. Volunteering is a small revolution at the front line. We must now support it by investing in accreditation.