REPORT LAUNCH: Volunteering, COVID and integrated care – how the recent surge of volunteer support must be ‘wired-in’ to healthcare for long-term gains

Wednesday, 24 March 2021 A volunteer delievering supplies during the COVID pandemic
In a new report released today, Britain’s health leaders argue that the volunteer resource available during COVID-19 must be permanently embedded into the NHS and social care to deliver on proposed government health care reforms and achieve better outcomes for communities.

The report, written by Jeremy Hughes CBE (former CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society) for Public Policy Projects (PPP) in partnership with Royal Voluntary Service, brings together the views of the country’s health leaders.
It identifies the huge strides made during the pandemic in volunteering practice and the opportunities for healthcare volunteering to be a major part of delivering on the NHS Long Term Plan, including in the delivery of social prescribing ambitions.

Learnings from nationally co-ordinated, locally delivered volunteer programmes such as the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme, delivered by Royal Voluntary Service with GoodSAM on behalf of NHS England, must be incorporated into new delivery models, complimenting local voluntary organisations to make communities more resilient.

The innovative NHS Volunteer Responders programme was commissioned by NHS England at the start of the pandemic and galvanised nearly 397,000 volunteers who have answered more than 1.5 million requests for help with shopping deliveries, lifts to medical appointments, check in and chat calls and stewarding shifts at vaccination sites. The scheme has applied geo-technology via an app to co-ordinate volunteers. ‘Micro-volunteering’ tasks (short-term, one-off jobs) are sent directly to volunteers’ phones when they are on duty, matching them to local people needing help. This has revolutionised volunteering to support the health and care sector, introduced many newcomers to volunteering, and been a key part of an overall upsurge in people giving their time.

The report identifies the steps that need to be taken to harness the current volunteer effort post COVID-19, making a series of recommendations:

  1. Improve volunteer management by introducing a single recruitment and assessment process, supported by central and local government, the NHS, social care providers and Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations (VCSE). This should enable a volunteer to move between volunteering opportunities across health and social care.
  2. Develop the role of volunteers and maximise their potential to support person-centred care by mandating every Integrated Care System establishes a Volunteering Committee with representatives from primary and secondary care, local authorities, care providers and the voluntary and community sectors.
  3. Invest in volunteer support and require anyone engaging volunteers across health and social care to have an annual per capita budget to invest in supporting their volunteers with training and development as well as recognition and engagement.
  4. Establish new partnerships to best support volunteers and those in need and harmonise national engagement and volunteer support with local volunteering opportunities.

As the country looks to recover from the grip of COVID-19, this report sets out a path to ensure volunteering continues to support the government’s levelling up agenda. If healthcare inequalities are to be addressed, and the most vulnerable communities supported, the current level of volunteer engagement must continue nationally and in each Integrated Care System.

“Experience across the country over the past year has changed the perception of volunteers in the NHS. I found NHS and social care leaders recognise this change, but systems have yet to catch up. A new partnership that positions volunteers contributing alongside staff to best support patients is now possible. Implementing the recommendations in this report will mean we don’t dissipate the magnificent contribution of volunteers in the pandemic but rather enshrine it in the way our health service runs for years to come.”

Jeremy Hughes CBE, author of the report

"There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age - I missed it coming and going."

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest volunteering organisations in Great Britain, providing vital, responsive services which support public health, social care and wellbeing. Its staff and thousands of volunteers support people in need, with the aim of building resilience in local communities.

Originally set up as the Women’s Voluntary Service (subsequently the WRVS) in 1938, the charity began its life helping civilians during the Second World War. To mark our 75th anniversary in 2013, we became Royal Voluntary Service and welcome volunteers of all genders and backgrounds from age 14+.

The charity has supported the NHS since its inception. Today’s Royal Voluntary Service NHS volunteers provide patient companionship and transport, on-ward exercise sessions, and settlement support for vulnerable patients following a stay in hospital.

In local communities, Royal Voluntary Service (volunteers) run(s) physical activity classes, dining clubs and social groups which bring people together, promoting better health, social interaction and connection.

In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, NHS England commissioned Royal Voluntary Service to deliver the NHS Volunteer Responders programme to support the NHS and provide practical help to the 2.5 million most at-risk people who were shielding at home. This was the biggest volunteer mobilisation programme in peacetime and represents a revolution in volunteering, using technology to register, alert and deploy volunteers quickly, wherever needed. The programme created a safety net of on-call support in every community across England and to date, NHS Volunteer Responders have responded to 1.6 million requests for help.

The charity is also one of the UK’s largest hospital retailers with 230 volunteer-run shops, cafés and trolley services providing refreshments and company to patients, hospital staff and visitors.

Royal Voluntary Service offers a dynamic, rewarding, flexible volunteering experience, with volunteers supporting services designed to meet specific local community needs and the NHS.

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

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