How can we work together to maximise the impact of volunteer support in hospital discharge?

15th April 2024

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By Sarah Little, Head of Volunteering at Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Connie Blach, Policy Adviser, Hospital Discharge at DHSC

We know that volunteer support can be a huge factor in the efficiency and success of a discharge from hospital - but how can we make sure that these benefits are woven into processes nationwide?

Recently, I co-presented a jointly delivered DHSC-Helpforce webinar which addressed this question. The webinar shared stories of best practice that showed practitioners from across the UK the potential of a range of volunteer services supporting patients to leave hospital as soon as they are well and to ensure they can be settled safely at home.

I was delighted that around 100 professionals from health, care, and the voluntary and community sector (VCSE) joined the session, contributing their experience and raising questions about this important topic.

The webinar was an opportunity to make best practice visible and so help unlock the potential of high-quality volunteer support. I’d urge you all to take a look at the recording if you weren’t able to attend.

I want to take the opportunity of this blog to highlight two things that emerged in the webinar and which volunteer leads in health and care can focus on to maximise volunteers’ impact on patient discharge.


1 – Data, data, data

Meaningful data not only tells us what works (and just as importantly, what does not), but can also help us build a robust, well-evidenced case for wider implementation.

Data can show us where best to place volunteers. Helpforce’s data has shown that volunteers can best support discharged patients who:

  • leave hospital with no additional support required, but who could benefit from support with the transition home (known as pathway 0)


  • leave hospital with a new, self-managed care package who could use a helping hand to help them settle into their new routines (pathway 1)

Together, these two pathways account for more than half of the discharge volume (58%). Deploying volunteers here would make a significant impact on ensuring that the majority of people go home to happier, healthier and less isolated conditions.

Data helps us to inform the wider policy picture too. For example, DHSC collaborated with Helpforce last year to produce a report on the topic of volunteers in discharge for the Minister of Social Care Helen Whateley. Helpforce’s data showed that with volunteers’ help, patient discharge was sped up by 44 minutes, which had significant cost saving implications.

The Minister was so impressed with the examples of support volunteers were providing that she asked my team to continue working with relevant stakeholders to explore the potential roles that volunteers can play in patient discharge. Already, data has been a driving force in propelling decision-making for the better.


2 – Keep looking out for great examples

I couldn’t have agreed more with Mark Lever, CEO at Helpforce, who said during the webinar that health systems shouldn’t have to start with a blank canvas when deploying volunteers in discharge support. There have been many organisations who have done so effectively already and whose success others can draw on – some of whom we heard from during the webinar.

I was impressed by the insight given by Jordan Johnson, Wellbeing Services and Operations manager at Warrington Voluntary Action, into how they have been working with Warrington and Walton NHS Foundation Trust. Two-thirds of the discharged patients that they supported didn’t go back to hospital as they had all the support that they needed from the volunteers. The key to this success was the use of a key worker linking the hospital with the community service to direct volunteers to where they are most needed and raise the visibility of the service with hospital staff.

This is a prime example of how trusts can use others’ experiences of success to inform their implementation of volunteer services and make the most of their benefits.

Another great example was shared by Sally Dyson, Volunteering lead at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust. Her trust has three volunteering programmes to support patient discharge, including volunteer drivers, volunteers settle-in service, and volunteer safety netting calls to check on patients after the first day they get home. All concerns are referred to the discharge co-ordinator and signposting is provided to the discharge team.

So, keep looking out for those examples to get inspired. Join webinars and sign up for newsletters that provide ideas and examples of how volunteers can play their part in health and care. The more knowledge and inspiration we all share, the better we can design programmes that suit our own organisation’s and patients’ needs.


Now we know what volunteers can do, health and care leaders in the NHS and the VCSE sector need to work together to build on this potential, co-producing programmes that respond to local service needs. Together, we can enable people to stay well, safe and independent at home for longer, and make sure the right care is delivered in the right place at the right time.

You can watch the webinar recording ‘How to weave volunteer support into the discharge pathway’ here.

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