A sustainably resourced volunteer service is the first step in achieving the long-term plan – something, the trusts and health boards across the country must take on to help the NHS. By Sam Ward.
Since the long-term plan’s declaration to double the number of NHS volunteers in the next 10 years, evidence has continued to show the impact of a strategically integrated volunteering service on patient outcomes.
But, consistently resourcing a volunteer service is not always straight-forward, and a common challenge is securing sustainable funding and leadership. However, both are crucial if a real difference is going to be felt.
With increasing demands on the NHS, including from the growing ageing population, it is more important than ever to support both patients and staff. As the long-term plan stated, integrating volunteer services is an important way to do this, and needs to be a priority within the decade.
Value of volunteers
Volunteers offer many different benefits for both patients and staff and have a range of capabilities, including guiding services and on-ward support. Volunteers can play a vital role in helping patients with exercise and basic movement, improving muscle strength.
They also encourage hydration and nutrition – this is a particularly valuable element to those patients who have dementia, where consistency and familiarity of support can make patients more comfortable. The evidence of the success is widespread and we are not the only organisation championing the increasingly, important role it plays. The King’s Fund recently published findings revealing over 90 per cent of nurses believe volunteers “add value to patient experience”.
Despite the evident value of volunteer services, we are very familiar with the challenges in resourcing them – particularly from a funding perspective. As a result, we have looked closely at the challenges faced by trusts and health boards to try and provide a volunteering funding solution that is easily adoptable and meets the most pressing concerns of NHS leadership.
The King’s Fund recently published findings revealing over 90 per cent of nurses believe volunteers ‘add value to patient experience’
This needs to encourage sustainability, longevity and be easy to bring in to support existing structures. We can provide services wherever there is a source of funding, but to try and really support trusts in response to these challenges, we have developed, “Step Up”.
The new sustainable model enables trusts and health boards to use the money raised through volunteer run hospital shops, cafes and trolleys in each local hospital, to invest in the ongoing management and delivery of high-impact volunteer support. This means they can be sure that the support will always be there for staff and patients alike.
Even once a secure funding-stream is in place, setting up a volunteer service can still pose challenges in terms of securing a well-trained service manager. Where there is always the option of internal resource for the role, without extensive experience and training, a volunteering service can be less efficient.
Even once a secure funding-stream is in place, setting up a volunteer service can still pose challenges in terms of securing a well-trained service manager
Therefore, there can be real value in working with an experienced volunteering organisation to provide the manager. By investing in a model that incorporates and prioritises the importance of this role, hospitals will save money in the long-term and ensure a strategic focus for the service from the outset.
Hospitals must identify where the volunteer support could be most beneficial, in the ways that will best suit a hospital’s needs, and this process is best supported by a volunteer manager from the start.
The value and impact of volunteers is now essential to the future of the NHS. Thinking about how your hospital can fund and resource a service is the first step to a successfully integrated volunteer service. This is something trusts and health boards across the country must take on to help the NHS achieve their long-term plan.