A new scheme has been launched that aims to double the number of volunteers working in the NHS by 2021.
HelpForce has been set up by Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett as a Community Interest Company. It aims to “accelerate improvements in the involvement of volunteers in the NHS”. By 2021 it aims to double the 78,000 volunteers currently working in NHS trusts to 156,000. Helpforce will be launching a five-year fundraising campaign in January to raise £5m.
It will work with 12 Acute NHS Hospital Trusts to develop new volunteer roles and create a best practice model for volunteering in hospitals and other patient settings.
It has received support from organisations including Royal Voluntary Service, British Red Cross, Step up to Serve, NHS England, Health Education England and Deloitte.
HelpForce is starting with a focus on critical moments in hospitals where staff and patients would benefit from additional support, for example at meal times or discharge from hospital. It is also prioritising volunteer help for patients who do not have their own family or wider support network.
Pilot programmes are being run in five NHS Trusts to develop and test new interventions involving volunteers. These include Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust which is starting with ‘Bleep Volunteers’, who will support patients and staff with a range of ad-hoc important tasks, before later focusing on volunteering around patient discharge and transport.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is developing specific volunteer roles in its Jubilee Treatment day centre and also supporting discharge at one of its intermediate care units.
Hughes-Hallett is chair of Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust Hospital and was previously chief executive of Marie Curie.
He said: “NHS staff deliver brilliant medical care but both the system and our frontline teams are under intense pressure. While we currently benefit from over 78,000 people volunteering with acute NHS Trusts, they are rarely integrated into NHS strategies or service delivery plans and this is a missed opportunity.
“We know the benefits that well managed staff-volunteer teams bring, with substantial improvements in patient care sitting alongside positive feedback from NHS teams. We want everyone to experience these benefits as quickly as possible and have developed a focused five year plan for HelpForce to unlock the potential of volunteers across the country.”
HelpForce is also working with The King’s Fund to develop the HelpForce learning network, a new nationwide community of practice that will share examples of innovation of volunteer roles in healthcare.
Chris Naylor, senior fellow in health policy at King’s Fund, said: “Volunteering has a crucial part to play in the NHS, and is an area where there is lots of potential to innovate and find new ways of improving care for patients. We are pleased to support HelpForce in their mission to help the NHS realise that potential.”
Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service, has written about the urgent need to maximise the number of volunteers in hospitals here.