Skip to content

This content is more than five years old


Volunteering in acute trusts in England

Understanding the scale and impact

Around three million people volunteer for health, disability and welfare organisations in England – the same number as the combined NHS and social care workforce. But very little is known about where these volunteers work or what they do.

This paper addresses the gap in local knowledge that was highlighted earlier this year in a related report by The King's Fund on Volunteering in health and care.

As part of a project funded by the Department of Health, the authors gauge the scale and value of volunteering in NHS acute trusts in England by analysing survey results received from 99 of the 166 acute trusts contacted. Their independent research aims to help local providers and system leaders understand the contribution of volunteering and provide organisations with benchmarking information, including possible returns on investment in volunteering.

Download our volunteering in health literature review

Key findings

  • The acute trusts surveyed have on average 471 volunteers. Scaled up, this equates to more than 78,000 volunteers across all acute trusts in England, contributing more than 13 million hours per year.

  • There is a wide variation in the numbers of volunteers, with only a weak link between trust size and volunteer numbers. Some trusts report as few as 35 volunteers, while others have 1,300.

  • The volunteer profile has changed over the past five years, with new volunteers tending to be younger and more ethnically diverse (according to 66 per cent and 56 per cent of respondents respectively).

  • All the respondents see volunteering as a growth area with 87 per cent expecting the number of volunteers to increase over the next three years.

  • Respondents feel that volunteers play a critical role in improving patient experience. But most trusts recognise that they were not doing enough to measure this impact more formally.

  • Analysing our survey data analysis suggests that for the average trust, every pound invested in volunteering could yield around £11 in added value. But trusts need a more sophisticated approach for measuring the value of volunteering, to include patient experience and quality of care.

Policy implications

  • It appears that some trusts do not have enough information on volunteering to enable them to exploit the full potential of volunteering services.

  • More research is needed to understand how organisations receive information and make decisions on their volunteer services; failure to feed information in at board level will make it hard for volunteering services to be strategically aligned to trusts’ ways of working.

  • Our examples of best practice show how hospitals are supporting and developing their volunteers and managing the tension at the boundary between volunteer and staff roles.

  • More clarity is needed for acute trusts on the extent of checks required and for potential volunteers on how volunteering affects benefits entitlements.


Our new set of infographics looks at volunteering in acute trusts in England – including the important roles volunteers play, the variation in the number of volunteers between trusts and volunteering growth in future.

These infographics are for you to use and share – please just mention The King's Fund when you do so.

Download a copy of this slideset

Case studies

In  this report, we took an in-depth look at three sites to build on our knowledge of how some volunteering schemes work. The first site was chosen as it has a relatively small volunteer base but is developing a number of different roles. The other two sites were chosen because they have a large volunteer base covering wide-ranging roles.

The three sites we chose were:

  • University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre

  • Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Pennine Acute Hospital NHS Trust