Hospital volunteers set to double

Patients are to receive more support from volunteers in NHS hospitals in England, with a new organisation pledging to double their number over the next four years

Picture: iStock

Patients are to receive more support from volunteers in NHS hospitals in England, with a new organisation pledging to double their number over the next four years.

HelpForce, a non-profit community interest company, aims to increase the number of volunteers in hospitals from an estimated 78,000 to more than 150,000 by 2021.

The starting point is a focus on ‘critical moments’ in hospitals where staff and patients would benefit from additional support, such as at meal times or discharge.

More time for nurses

It is also prioritising volunteer help for patients who do not have a family or wider support network.

In all, 12 trusts – including five in a pilot programme – have joined an initial network.

RCN chief executive Janet Davies said the move would give nurses more time to care for patients.

Ms Davies said: ‘Volunteers have worked within hospitals for many years, but often at arm’s length from nurses and other healthcare staff.

‘The development of properly co-ordinated staff-volunteer teams means we will be able to give vulnerable patients extra support when they need it without increasing the burden on our staff.’

Trusts in the pilot scheme and initial targets

  • Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is trialling ‘bleep volunteers’ to carry out a range of tasks as needed, and will later focus their use on patient discharge and transport.
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is developing specific volunteer roles in its Jubilee Treatment day centre, as well as in discharge at one of its intermediate care units.
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust is starting with volunteer transport services and improving mobility on wards to link with the #EndPJparalysis campaign, which encourages patients to get out of bed when possible and wear day clothes instead of pyjamas.
  • University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is introducing a volunteer role that combines mealtime assistance, mobility and befriending roles in wards.
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is looking at how volunteers can support discharge planning and work in the community to support early intervention teams and help link patients with local community assets and services.

HelpForce founder Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett said volunteers are rarely integrated into NHS strategies or service delivery plans, which he called a missed opportunity.

Sir Thomas, who is chair of Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, one of the trusts in the pilot scheme, said there was now a ‘focused plan’ to develop the volunteer workforce.

He said: ‘NHS staff deliver brilliant medical care but the system and our frontline teams are under intense pressure.

Improved patient care

‘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.’

NHS England and the King's Fund are among organisations supporting HelpForce.

The other seven trusts in the network are:

  • Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
  • Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
  • South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust.
  • York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

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