HelpForce launches to maximise volunteers in NHS

A new organisation to accelerate improvements in the involvement of volunteers in the NHS has been set up by Sir Tom Hughes-Hallet.

Backed by many healthcare and voluntary sector leaders, HelpForce wants to double the number of volunteers working in the NHS by 2021 so that more patients and NHS staff can benefit from their time, help and care.

HelpForce is working 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 support from organisations including NHS England, Health Education England, Royal Voluntary Service, British Red Cross, Deloitte and Step up to Serve.

HelpForce is starting with a focus on critical moments in hospitals where staff and patients would benefit from additional support. It is also prioritising volunteer help for patients who do not have their own family or wider support network.

Five of the NHS trusts in the HelpForce learning network are running pilot programmes to develop and test new interventions involving volunteers. These are Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals Trust, University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

A comprehensive report commissioned by HelpForce earlier this year showed that each NHS trust has an average of 471 volunteers and highlighted growing evidence of the positive impact that the use of volunteers can make.

HelpForce is 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.

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, HelpForce’s founder and chair of Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust Hospital, said: “NHS staff deliver brilliant medical care but both the system and our front line 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.”

Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said: “NHS staff deliver brilliant medical care but both the system and our front line 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.”

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Volunteers have worked within hospitals for many years, but often at arms 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.”

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.”

Claire Riley, director of comms and corporate affairs at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Volunteering is a key way in which we develop strong relationships with our communities. Through our pilot with HelpForce, we want to extend this by testing new approaches, giving opportunities to more volunteers and tracking the benefits they create for patients, staff, volunteers and the community overall. Every volunteer role is developed with our staff teams and they are actively involved in reviewing the impact made.”

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