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70 years of supporting the NHS

Catherine Johnstone CBE"As relevant today as it ever has been - Royal Voluntary Service looks back at 70 years of volunteering in the NHS." Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive Royal Voluntary Service

Happy 70th Birthday to the National Health Service from all at Royal Voluntary Service.

Royal Voluntary Service, or Women’s Voluntary Service as we were then known, was already 10 years old when Bevan’s National Health Service was born in 1948. By that time our volunteers had already become a familiar and vital presence in hospitals - assisting with preparations for war, filling staff shortages for non-medical jobs and helping during emergencies.

In the post war era, despite staff returning to their posts, our army of dedicated volunteers still found their services in high demand. Our focus shifted to assisting with the aims of the NHS and enabling it to run services it would not be able to without voluntary support. Members took on roles including reception work; canteens; trolley shops; and special campaigns.

In 1946-48, the now iconic, WVS trolley shops and shopping services landed on wards and quickly became a familiar and welcome sight in hospitals across Britain. Volunteers would do rounds twice weekly, selling popular items including biscuits, tobacco and cigarettes, sweets and fruit. We also established a number of hospital canteens to provide refreshments, a place for people to take a break and bring comfort to those waiting for appointments.

All of the profits enabled Royal Voluntary Service to support older people in their local community or were gifted back to the hospital to spend on equipment or services.

Royal Voluntary Service volunteers were also regularly called upon to help with national health campaigns. For instance, our volunteers would organise blood donation sessions and provide tea and biscuits to donors. They were also involved in running handicraft workshops; writing letters; entertaining; escorting on journeys and Darby and Joan Clubs for long-stay patients.

In 2018, we are extremely proud to still be part of daily life in the NHS. It is an incredible institution that sits right at the heart of Civic Society and the continued presence of thousands of our volunteers is as critical and relevant as it ever has been.

We have more than 230 volunteer-run shops, cafés and trolley services that provide tea and company to patients, hospital staff and visitors and today we are leading the charge on healthy eating and drinking in hospitals.

Our NHS volunteers are also playing a vital role in reducing readmissions and improving patient experience. Volunteers provide on ward support to help older patients regain their cognitive and physical strength, and through our Home from Hospital service, we support people to recover and build confidence after being discharged from hospital.

In our 80th year, Royal Voluntary Service is continuing to prioritise support for the NHS and via a new strategic partnership with Helpforce, we will be aiming to scale up voluntary service in the NHS over the next 5 years. Combining HelpForce’s innovation with our experience, means we can explore and identify new ways volunteers can ease some of the pressures faced by our health care system.

It is an absolute honour to have been supporting the NHS from its origins and as we wish it a very happy birthday, we also want to thank all our wonderful volunteers past and present. These ordinary men and women give freely of their time to do the simple things that make a big difference.

The gift of voluntary service is an amazing way we can all give something back and thank the NHS and all those who work within it. Find out more about local volunteering opportunities in the NHS, or to make a donation to support our work.

Posted by Catherine Johnstone CBE, CEO Royal Voluntary Service at 09:00 Thursday, 05 July 2018.

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