Daily Mail

Top health ex­perts: Vol­un­teers are cru­cial to the NHS

- By Kate Pick­les Health Re­porter Health · Medicine · Society · United Kingdom · England · Royal College of Nursing · Volunteering · Royal Voluntary Service

DOC­TORS and nurses be­lieve hos­pi­tal vol­un­teers play a vi­tal role in im­prov­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of pa­tients and staff, a land­mark re­port con­cludes to­day.

They say vol­un­teers make a hugely im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion re­liev­ing pres­sure on front­line NHS work­ers, the re­search found.

In the study, the first of its kind, ex­perts from Bri­tain’s most re­spected health think-tank The King’s Fund, asked health­care pro­fes­sion­als how they per­ceived vol­un­teers work­ing in the NHS.

They found that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity – 90 per cent – felt vol­un­teers im­proved pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence by ‘bring­ing hu­man kind­ness’ to busy hospi­tals.

Some 74 per cent of those sur­veyed – who in­cluded doc­tors, nurses and sup­port staff – also said they help re­lieve pres­sure on staff.

The key find­ings come days af­ter the Daily Mail launched a ma­jor vol­un­teer­ing drive, with more than 11,000 kind­hearted read­ers hav­ing al­ready pledged their time to sup­port the NHS.

There are al­ready about 78,000 vol­un­teers in hospi­tals but the age­ing pop­u­la­tion and in­creas­ing com­plex­ity of health needs means they are in ever greater de­mand.

To­day’s re­port, com­mis­sioned by the Royal Vol­un­tary Ser­vice and Help­force, in­volved nearly 300 hos­pi­tal staff in Eng­land. Two thirds of the re­spon­dents said that vol­un­teers made a dif­fer­ence by pro­vid­ing com­pan­ion­ship and gen­eral stim­u­la­tion to pa­tients. They are also im­por­tant in prac­ti­cal roles, such as pick­ing up med­i­ca­tion and help­ing feed pa­tients at meal­times, which leaves pres­surised doc­tors and nurses free to fo­cus on med­i­cal care.

Richard Mur­ray, di­rec­tor of pol­icy at The King’s Fund, said: ‘We found that front­line staff clearly ap­pre­ci­ate the hu­man kind­ness vol­un­teers bring into busy hos­pi­tal life, pro­vided they are not be­ing used as a sub­sti­tute for paid staff. We en­cour­age NHS bosses to sit up and take note of the crit­i­cal role

‘They can make a world of dif­fer­ence’

their staff say vol­un­teers play in en­hanc­ing pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence.’

The au­thors also iden­ti­fied some of the chal­lenges hos­pi­tal staff face when work­ing with vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing clar­ity re­gard­ing the bound­aries be­tween the roles of staff and vol­un­teers.

Some raised con­cerns about the po­ten­tial to rely on vol­un­teers too much in ser­vices that are in­creas­ingly un­der pres­sure. The re­port makes a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions to NHS trust lead­ers to help them max­imise the im­pact of vol­un­teers in their hospi­tals. Cather­ine John­stone, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Royal Vol­un­tary Ser­vice, said: ‘We know the dif­fer­ence our vol­un­teers make, from im­prov­ing pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence to al­low­ing more time for doc­tors and nurses to con­cen­trate on clin­i­cal care.

‘The re­port high­lights both op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges which we need to em­brace and tackle if we want to suc­cess­fully scale up vol­un­tary ser­vice.’

Anna Chadwick, the lead de­men­tia nurse at Mid Cheshire Hospi­tals, said RVS vol­un­teers were greatly val­ued by staff, pa­tients and their fam­i­lies.

‘The im­pact of vol­un­teers giv­ing their time to of­fer mean­ing­ful sup­port to peo­ple who are un­well and of­ten lonely and fright­ened, is im­mea­sur­able,’ she said. ‘The hos­pi­tal en­vi­ron­ment can be over­whelm­ing and a friendly face and chat can make the world of dif­fer­ence to a per­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Sir Tom Hughes-Hal­lett, founder of Help­force, said: ‘I hope this re­port will gal­vanise the ex­ec­u­tive level sup­port nec­es­sary to cre­ate a step-change in vol­un­teer­ing in our NHS.’

The Mail’s Christ­mas cam­paign has also been backed by The Royal Col­lege of Nurs­ing and Uni­son.

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‘I look for­ward to get­ting stuck in’: TV host Kate Gar­raway
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