New volunteering service to help patients get diagnosed more quickly

20th February 2024

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A pilot volunteering service across the Norfolk and Waveney and Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Systems went live in January to support more patients to attend their imaging appointments, getting them on any treatment pathway faster.

This innovative service – funded by NHS England - East of England, with support from ImageEast, and EDIN (Eastern Diagnostic Imaging) Networks and Helpforce – has volunteers phoning up to 1,700 patients per week to remind them of their appointments, identify barriers that might stop them from attending and provide support where needed. As a result, patients will have better outcomes and there will be less pressure on elective services.

Maeve Hully, Director of Volunteering at Helpforce, said: “It’s wonderful supporting the two integrated care systems in rolling out this important service, building on our experience of setting up volunteer call centres to reduce DNAs (Did Not Attends) in other areas of the country.

“We know from our experience elsewhere that there are a wide range of reasons patients may not attend appointments. It could be because they’re nervous or don’t know appointment details. Or they may find it difficult to get to the appointment for transport or accessibility reasons or have cultural beliefs which make it difficult for them to attend. Or they may be uncertain about the preparation needed ahead of the appointment.

“Whatever the barriers they’re facing, when patients get a call from a volunteer ahead of their appointment, they can share their personal circumstances and concerns. And the volunteer can get them the guidance and additional support from hospital teams that they need to ensure they get to their appointment and have prepared correctly for it.”

Diganostic story
An overview summary of the service

Within Norfolk and Waveney, volunteers will also provide eligible patients with information to encourage their uptake of appointments at an alternative community diagnostic centre site with shorter waiting times. This will help make best use of system capacity and reduce the backlog of patients on waiting lists.

The pilot is being championed by Sam Brown, Diagnostics Transformation Programme Lead for Norfolk and Waveney ICS and previously Strategic Workforce Lead for ImageEast and EDIN Imaging Networks. Sam said: “We know that in England, diagnostic tests are not happening quickly enough, with a quarter of patients waiting more than six weeks, compared to between 3 and 4% before the pandemic (BBC, 2023). In Norfolk and Waveney, imaging services are facing a massive waiting list. Many of our patients are feeling frustrated and increasingly worried about their health.

“Non-attendance and procedure cancellations or abandonment have a domino effect on our waiting lists and exacerbate operational pressures for staff. Tackling this needs to be absolute priority to ensure we are using hospital resources efficiently, getting patients the best outcomes and looking after the wellbeing of our staff.

“So, when Helpforce provided us with insight into how similar volunteering services at George Eliot Hospital and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (UHB) were reducing DNAs, we secured a small pocket of funding to replicate the service at scale with two ICS pilot sites. The pilot includes Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Broomfield Hospital.

“Through the collective effort of the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board Diagnostics Transformation team, the three hospital sites involved and Helpforce, we were able to get a service designed and live within 12 weeks and are excited to start monitoring its impact.

“Helpforce are leading an independent evaluation measuring the impact these volunteer services are having on non-attendance rates and other outcomes. As evaluations of similar services elsewhere have done, we hope the findings will evidence a need to sustain the service and spread it to other sites long-term.”

If you would like to know more about developing this area-wide service, please email us at Or check out our free online courses, including setting up volunteer-led contact centres.