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

For further information

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