NHS hospitals get £11 in value for every £1 invested in volunteers

Every £1 invested in volunteering in the NHS yields services worth £11 in return, estimates a new report by The King's Fund.

Volunteering in acute trusts in England: Understanding the scale and impact is based on the first national survey of volunteering in hospitals. The survey found that there are nearly 500 volunteers in the average acute trust, equating to more than 78,000 volunteers in hospitals across England who contribute more than 13 million hours per year. Based on current NHS pay rates, this translates to a return of £11 for every £1 invested in the training and management of volunteers.

The report, sponsored by the Department of Health, highlights the benefits volunteers bring to the health service, with survey respondents demonstrating the critical role they play in improving patient experience. Volunteers fulfil a variety of different roles, from befriending to collecting survey data, supporting patients to eat well and supporting the running of mock hospital inspections.

In some hospitals, volunteers are seen as an integral part of the care team, but it is clear that few trusts are formally measuring the impact of volunteers at present. Furthermore, many hospitals are not benefiting from volunteers as much as they could do; there is considerable variation too in the number of volunteers - some reported as few as 35 volunteers, while others had 1,300 – and the number of volunteers is not necessarily linked to the size of the trust.

However, volunteering is clearly a growth area; 87 per cent of respondents expected the number of volunteers to increase over the next three years, in most cases by more than 25 per cent. No one said that they expected it to decrease. The profile of volunteers is also changing; two-thirds of survey respondents said that new volunteers now tend to be younger than five years ago, and more than half said that there is more diversity in terms of ethnicity.

The report highlights areas where more research is needed to understand the opportunities available so that the benefits of volunteering can be better understood and adopted more widely. In particular, there is clearly a need to include impact on patient experience and quality of care when measuring the value of volunteering. Many trusts surveyed were measuring impact in some way already, but it is less clear how this information is used to improve planning, evaluation and service changes.

Amy Galea, Senior Researcher at The King’s Fund and lead author of the report, said: ‘Volunteering has a critical role to play in improving services for patients. It supports many national aspirations such as improving the experience of patients, building stronger relationships between services and communities and creating social value.

‘Our survey shows that volunteers are being used in increasingly imaginative ways which are valued highly by patients, staff and the public. The challenge now is for the NHS to develop in more detail its understanding of the impact that volunteers have – this should help to enable all hospitals to harness the potential of volunteering.’

More on volunteering

Notes to editors: 

For further information or to request an interview with one of the authors, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 020 7307 2632 (if calling out of hours, please ring 07584 146 035).

In March 2013, The King’s Fund published the report Volunteering in health and care: Securing a sustainable future. This considered the future of volunteering in the context of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and wider system changes. It highlighted the lack of data at the local level on volunteering in the NHS. Following this report, the Department of Health funded The King’s Fund to carry out a survey focusing on the scale and value of volunteering in NHS acute trusts.

All 166 acute trusts in England were invited to take part in the survey. 99 responses were collected from mid-May to mid-August 2013, a response rate of 60 per cent.

The survey found an average of 471 volunteers in surveyed acute trusts, which would translate to more than 78,000 volunteers in acute trusts across the whole of England. This does not include the contribution of volunteers in mental health trusts, general practice and other settings. It also does not consider people who give their time in a governance capacity in acute trusts.

Of 91 survey respondents, 66 per cent said that the profile of volunteers now is younger compared to five years ago. Of 89 who responded to the question about diversity, 56 per cent said there is more diversity in terms of ethnicity compared to five years ago.

The report includes an in-depth look at how volunteering schemes work at three case study sites. These were University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Pennine Acute Hospital NHS Trust.

On the same day as the report, a new initiative launched by Nesta will support up to 15 hospitals to support innovative approaches to volunteering, and to measure the impact volunteers have on patients’ experience. The programme fund (of up to £1.5m) is run by Nesta and funded by the Innovation Fund within the Cabinet Office’s Centre for Social Action. For more information, please visit Nesta's website or contact the Nesta media team on 020 7438 2606.