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Volunteering in health and care

Securing a sustainable future


This report considers the role and value of volunteers in health and social care. It looks at the important part that volunteers play in improving patient experience, addressing health inequalities, and building a closer relationship between services and communities.

It also outlines the changing nature of volunteering, why this can cause tensions, and why volunteering does not always reach its full potential. Examples of good practice in the NHS and voluntary sector illustrate how these barriers can be overcome.

The authors discuss the future of volunteering in the light of the financial challenges facing public services and the reforms introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. They conclude by presenting two different scenarios and giving recommendations for achieving the best case scenario.

Key findings

  • Around three million people volunteer in health and social care, making an important contribution to people’s experience of care.

  • Innovative forms of volunteering are reaching out to new communities and engaging people in service delivery in new ways.

  • In some hospitals, volunteers are increasingly being seen as an integral part of the care team rather than an ‘add on’.

  • Too many organisations currently lack a strategic vision for the role of volunteering within their workforce, and so miss the opportunities that exist.

  • The reforms introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 offer new opportunities for volunteering but also some significant challenges.

  • The economic situation is creating a challenging environment for volunteering and raising concerns about job substitution.

Policy implications

  • Service providers and commissioners should take a much more strategic approach towards volunteering, with a clear vision of how volunteers will help meet organisational objectives and benefit patients and the local community.

  • The Department of Health, NHS Commissioning Board, Public Health England and other national bodies need to articulate and measure the value of volunteering and support local organisations to work with volunteers effectively.

  • Providers of all kinds should focus on volunteering as a means of improving quality rather than cutting costs, and should resource volunteer management appropriately.


Chris Naylor, Fellow in Health Policy at The King's Fund, looks at the value of volunteering in health and social care, what it takes to get it right and the impact of the NHS reforms on volunteers.

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