The role of volunteers in the NHS: views from the front line

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This report was commissioned by Royal Voluntary Service and Helpforce in July 2018. Its intention is to ascertain the perceptions of frontline NHS staff working in acute care about the operational pressures they face, how they understand the roles and value of volunteers and what gaps there are that volunteers could help fill. The report sets out the findings from a survey, series of semi-structured interviews and a non-systematic literature review.

Key findings

  • Frontline staff recognise the broad range of activities carried out by volunteers in NHS hospitals. Frontline staff describe a diverse range of roles for volunteers in hospitals. Volunteers undertake practical tasks such as picking up medication from the pharmacy, escorting a patient around the hospital, and running tea rounds. They can comfort and support patients, providing companionship for those who don’t have other visitors. Volunteers also support staff by freeing up their time to prioritise clinical care and by acting as an extra pair of hands or eyes.  
  • The overwhelming majority of frontline staff agree that volunteering in hospitals adds value for patients, staff and volunteers. Over 70 per cent of the different staff groups agree with the statement that volunteering in hospitals adds value for patients, for staff, and for volunteers themselves.
  • The majority of frontline staff enjoy working with volunteers, with some variation between different staff groups. The majority of survey respondents report that they enjoy working with volunteers (however, the number of doctor respondents is low), although there is some variation between different staff groups. The high level of enjoyment is largely attributed to volunteers’ positive attitudes. Volunteers can also improve staff morale and help staff feel they are providing a better service to patients.
  • The main challenge for frontline staff is a lack of clarity regarding role boundaries. According to frontline staff, the biggest challenge in working with volunteers is the lack of clarity around boundaries between the roles of staff and volunteers. Similarly, they felt the impact of volunteers would be strengthened through better knowledge about the role of volunteers. There is an appetite for volunteers to get involved in more aspects of hospital work. Frontline staff felt volunteers would have more impact through better training and greater joined-up working between staff and volunteers. They also emphasise the need to value the contribution volunteers make. 

Read the full report >

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james robertson

retired medic working as expert witness,
Ramsay Health
Comment date
04 December 2018

We are very short of doctors and it is costly remaining GMC registered and insured, let alone parking at surgeries or NHS hospitals.
The NHS does ? nothing to tap possible health clinicians of all categories and maybe people like myself would do better for society than being on parish committees and school governing boards.

Adrian Hale

Trigeminal Neuralgia Association UK
Comment date
05 December 2018

As a volunteer myself, I wholeheartedly agree that anyone who gives of themselves to work voluntarily in the various parts of the NHS is to be commended and valued. However, it should not be forgotten that there are also thousands of people who provide guidance and support in the many charities throughout the UK. In particular those generally smaller charities responding to rare diseases. Whilst the NHS has recognised the need to have a rare disease strategy, for example, it has made no effort to contact those charities involved - or indeed ANY charities - as mentioned in the Five Year Forward plan. If the health service is to survive in the way it is envisaged, then the Government has to address this issue if it wants to achieve a truly person-centered approach.

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