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Readers’ panel: Is the planned increase in volunteers in hospitals a good way to relieve pressure on nursing staff?

Non-profit community interest company HelpForce has pledged to increase the number of volunteers in hospitals from an estimated 78,000 to more than 150,000 by 2021. Nursing Standard readers have their say.

Non-profit community interest company HelpForce has pledged to increase the number of volunteers in hospitals from an estimated 78,000 to more than 150,000 by 2021. Nursing Standard readers have their say


Picture: iStock

Liz Charalambous is a staff nurse and PhD student in Nottingham

@lizcharalambou

Liz_CharalambousI welcome this strategic approach to support voluntary action in the NHS, but it must be managed with care to ensure the safety of vulnerable patients as well as staff. There must be investment to ensure volunteers are adequately prepared to undertake this role, including comprehensive training, management and support to prepare them for the challenges of a busy acute clinical environment. We must beware of building services around volunteers, and have a detailed role description and definition.

Rachel Kent is a mental health nurse in London

Rachel_KentVolunteers do amazing work, but they should not be used to fill gaps in a struggling employed workforce. Plans to expand the number of volunteers highlight a deficit in service provision. Volunteers are expected to free up nurses’ time by doing jobs such as feeding patients, but what does it mean for nurses if the fundamentals of patient care are left to volunteers? And what effect will the potential reduction in nurse-patient contact have on overall patient care and satisfaction?

Ewout van Sabben is a third-year children’s nursing student in London

Ewout_van_SabbenGiven the immense pressures nurses are under, the planned expansion of the volunteer workforce is a positive idea. Volunteers can interact with patients during crucial moments when nurses are busy with medical or clinical interventions. But this reduces the overall contact between the nurse and the patient, and we cannot expect volunteers to fill the widening gaps of nursing practice. Is it helpful to have amazing volunteers on the wards? Probably. Is it the answer? Probably not.

Jane Scullion is a respiratory nurse consultant in Leicester

@JaneScullion

Jane_ScullionIt would be churlish not to welcome volunteers onto hospital wards to help ease the pressure on overstretched nurses. Volunteers can help at mealtimes and with patients’ mobility, and can take on befriending roles and support discharge planning. But the roles need to be clearly defined and training needs careful consideration. The elephant in the room is that if we had adequate staffing levels none of this would be necessary, and trained staff would be able to deliver person-centred care safely, effectively and efficiently.

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