Volunteering in health and care: Securing a sustainable future

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Part of Vision for volunteering in health

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.

More on volunteering in health and care

Related content

Comments

Edward Harkins

Position
Consultant (knowledge & research),
Organisation
Edward Harkins
Comment date
14 March 2013
It's undeniable that great and commendable (and often undervalued) work is carried out by the voluntary sector. The recent attempts to bring competition to the NHS in England, however, ought be a caution to the voluntary sector. The sector might best beware of being utilised as a channel for legitimising and making deliverable, many of the UK Coalition Government's socially reactionary and economically destructive cuts and degradation of core public services. A recent and troubling example was the (English) Ministerial muddying of the waters on definitions of what constitutes a 'social enterprise' to render the provision of core health services a more accessible 'business' for private sector interests.

Paul Thackraym

Position
Public Governor,
Organisation
Dorset Healthcare Foundation Trust
Comment date
14 March 2013
Nobody seems to recognise the enormous contribution that volunteer professionals can make. They are under valued, under utilised and not listened to. In fact they are a huge untapped resource with the potential to not only help solve the problems in the Health Service but also the Nations Economic problems.

JAN ROCHA

Position
journalist,
Comment date
14 March 2013
In 1967 the King's Fund published a book called `Organisers of Voluntary Help in Hospitals` based on a survey of 13 hospitals. I was the author. As a result, a Standing Conference of Voluntary help Organisers was set up, and soon many more hospitals had Organisers. I would like to suggest that this earlier experience still has lessons for today, when the value of volunteers is being rediscovered.

Geoffrey Bennet

Position
Patient and volunteer,
Comment date
14 March 2013
The NHS is struggling with accelerating progress in treatments, greater financial pressures and an ageing population. I can't see it being able to deliver satisfactory care without volunteers. But they must only enhance patient experience and not replace professionals. A salaried organiser of volunteers as a senior role seems to me to be an essential investment for all care providers in the NHS.

Dr Helen Lewis

Position
Patient and volunteer,
Organisation
Lay representative CCG
Comment date
18 March 2013
Agree with Pauk Thackray - the professional expertise patient volunteers can bring to informing care pathways, evaluating patient care and patient experience, management of local health and social care resources, and scrutiny of commissioning and provider services is under-utilised and under-valued.

Too often clinicians and managers challenge, then ignore, a wealth of 'anecdotal' evidence and/or evidence from social research, as they do not meet rigorous clinical standards of 'proof'.

Helen Walker

Position
Chief Executive,
Organisation
TimeBank
Comment date
21 March 2013
One thing that is often overlooked is the role of volunteers in mental health recovery. At TimeBank we run a number of projects which recruit volunteer mentors for young people and ex-service men and women who are recovering from mental health issues. We know from our extensive experience in this field that mentoring can have a powerful impact. In an external evaluation of one of our projects, young people said they built confidence, improved their quality of life and felt more ready to engage with society after engaging with a volunteer mentor. The evaluation also noted that mentees feel in control and identify the relationship as something distinctively different from professional mental health services, while often seeing it as providing something that friends and family didn’t always provide: a non-judgemental ‘sounding board’, or a ‘top up’.

Robert Edmonds

Position
Chief Executive Officer,
Organisation
Age UK Haringey
Comment date
21 March 2013
Yes. Volunteering is a vital additional component in health and social care settings in that, when adequately resourced, it can offer a qualitatively different (non-professional) space in which to actively listen to health care recipient's life experience. It can also unlock more diverse interactions – here in north London, as elsewhere, this includes reciprocal benefits accrued from volunteering across the generations and inter-culturally.

Noel Traynor

Position
Chief Executive Officer,
Organisation
Manchester Deaf Centre
Comment date
26 March 2013
Currently volunteers we recruit and utilise are able to access free training through courses provided by Manchester City Council's Adult & Social Care as part of their good practice. I was wondering if the new CCG's would offer similar training opportunities to volunteers enabling them to be knowledgable and skilled in supporting less able people to attending and accessing health appointments?

Jesal Patel

Position
Statutory Reporting Tax and Transfer Pricing (Global),
Organisation
GSK- CBS Tax & Statutory Reporting
Comment date
15 October 2013
I would like to offer voluntary services in NHS and Healthcare. Please can someone assist me with enrolling for this as a GSK employee? thanks Jesal

chantelle alton

Position
student nurse,
Organisation
hartelpool college
Comment date
22 September 2017
would like to voluneer

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