RCN welcomes plan to double NHS volunteers

A scheme aimed at doubling the number of volunteers working in the NHS by 2021 has been welcomed by the RCN

Volunteers Ethan Mackey and Lauren Seabrook with patient Audrey Greenwell
(right) at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: Gavin Duthie

A pilot scheme aiming to double the number of volunteers working in the NHS by 2021 has been welcomed by the RCN.

It said having volunteers to help support vulnerable patients would ease the burden on nursing staff.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is the first of five pilot sites to trial a project supported by the social enterprise group HelpForce and NHS England.

Social interaction

It is focusing on recruiting young people as volunteers and has so far signed up 28 pupils from two local schools.

The group will be based on two wards at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital – known as the Northumbria – and Wansbeck General Hospital. They will work in pairs to boost the social interaction of patients through games, conversation and helping with simple tasks.

RCN general secretary Janet 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.’

Give something back

One volunteer, Ethan Mackey, said he hopes to train as a nurse after completing his A levels.

‘I’ve always wanted to work in healthcare and to be able to find out what it’s like to be in a hospital environment and interact with patients will be a fantastic opportunity,’ he said.

‘I’ve always enjoyed looking after and helping people after the NHS cared for my grandma so well before she passed away last year. I’d really like to give something back and gain valuable experience for what hopefully will be my future career.’

HelpForce has NHS Improvement executive director of nursing Ruth May on its board. It was founded last year by Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, the chair of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

In the past Sir Thomas has stressed that volunteers will never replace qualified staff, and he insisted the project will not work without the backing of health trade unions including the RCN, which he has invited to join HelpForce's advisory council.

There are currently around 78,000 volunteers working in the NHS in England.


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