Top health experts: Volunteers are crucial to the NHS
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.