Volunteering in acute trusts in England: Understanding the scale and impact

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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.

Related content


Fiona Horton

Self- employed
Comment date
11 April 2016
Having read about The Kings Fund I understand that you endorse Complemntary Therapies and appreciate the benefits of reflexology. I'm keen to volunteer my services as I've seen how this therapy can help on both an emotional and physical level. In particular it is very effective in reducing stress and helping with a range of mental disorders. I currently practice from home but would be willing to travel to anywhere in the Warwickshire, Gloucestershire or Worcestershire area.

I'm fully qualified and insured. Please view my website for further details;

I look forward to hearing from you

Redwana Hoque

Health Assistant,
Comment date
04 July 2015
I would like to do volunteering in NHS

vicky chopra

Drama Student at Staffordshire University,
Comment date
03 June 2015
As I am currently studying drama performance at Staffordshire University I have gained the knowledge and experience working to meet people’s needs and requirements.
I have volunteered in a centre called Day Space in Surrey shadowing drama therapist's working with children who have disabilities such as ADHD and autism.
During this time I held story workshops and and performances for the children to relate too.
my long term aspiration is to work with children as a career and volunteering with children is what makes me happy knowing I'm helping and supporting them.
After my degree I would like to go on to my master which will lead me more towards my career in this particular field of being a Drama therapist in The future.

Shyam Bhat

Student taking Access to medical Sciences,
Lambeth College
Comment date
29 August 2014
I am a student who has been offered an unconditional place at Lambeth. I am seeking Voluntary work within the hospital. I have extensive interest in personal training and physiotherapy within a gymn.
I am very interested in any hospital based volunteer work from serving food or reading to patients or working with porters. I speak Gujarati and and am very aware of religious and cultural needs. I would be more than happy to support people from this community who may have difficulty in communicating in English.

Bethany Humphreys

Woodkirk Academy Sixth form
Comment date
31 July 2014
I am 17 years old and I wanted so work experience during my six week break which ends 1st September in a hospital. I am wanting to be a midwife, but I am willing to do it in any health care environment.

Adesola Joseph

Kensington and Chelsea college.
Comment date
29 July 2014
I am 46 years old and I have just completed a level 2 BTEC certificate in health and social care, i will be going on to level 3 this September; as part of my course requirement I have to undertake a work placement or find a voluntary job working in healthcare, can you tell me how I can find this.

Ivan sembatya

Comment date
25 January 2014
Am currently living in Uganda i want to volunteer.

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