Well trained volunteers can improve outcomes for those on waiting lists

13th June 2023

Waiting Well Man and Woman in garden

Written by Maeve Hully, Director of Volunteering, and Melissa Griffith, Programme Manager, at Helpforce

The number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to a record high, with a backlog of 7.42 million patients in April. Many measures have been put into action to cut down the lists but it could take years to clear the backlog (BMA, June 23). In the meantime, millions of people on waiting lists are suffering from a range of health conditions before they can receive the right help.

We can’t neglect the needs of patients on waiting lists.

According to Healthwatch, patients on waiting lists need:

  • More communication - accessible information to help them to understand their wait and to help them to manage their conditions while they wait. 45 per cent of respondents to a YouGov survey said that they received no information or not enough whilst waiting. Furthermore, NHS England has identified that improving communications with patients who are waiting for their hospital treatment is vital in helping them avoid feeling lost or forgotten.
  • Access to various interim support while they wait such as pain relief, physiotherapy or mental health support.

This is why Helpforce launched the Waiting Well Programme last year to support organisations in delivering new volunteering initiatives that can provide more support to patients on waiting lists.

How volunteers can help patients to wait well

To date we have worked with the Patient Association to raise awareness about patients’ rights to choose where they receive care, even though they could travel slightly further for care if it means going to a care provider with a shorter wait time.

Currently, we are working with 11 health and care organisations to roll out volunteer roles that provide interim support to patients on waiting lists and increase access to information that can help them prepare for their care or better manage their conditions during the wait. The volunteer roles include telephone-based support and physical support in person:

  • A single phone call to patients who have reached a certain number of weeks waiting to link them up with services that can benefit them whilst they are waiting
  • A phone call to patients one or two days before their diagnostic appointment to identify and address any barriers to attending the appointment: e.g., transport needs, worries and anxiety, translator needs, compliance with preparation guidance
  • Regular befriender phone calls with patients to support them in achieving pre surgery goals e.g., stabilising diabetes, weight loss and smoking cessation
  • Exercise programmes delivered in groups or 1:1 in home and local community settings to optimise patients' physical health pre surgery or to prevent deconditioning during the wait for community rehabilitation services
  • Digital support from volunteers to support patients in accessing virtual appointments and MDT (Multidisciplinary Teams) discussions
  • Helping patients to wait well benefits patients, staff, and health and care organisations

It’s not only patients who benefit from interim physical and emotional support. We expect organisations to see operational benefits such as reduced DNA rates (Did not attend) and procedure cancellations as a direct result of patients having their accessibility needs met, achieving their pre-surgery goals and relieving their stress and anxiety. In some cases, these operational improvements may result in staff time being saved, particularly within booking teams and for service managers. Where staff are currently making phone calls to patients on waiting lists, there is an opportunity to make more time for engaging with patients with higher needs or risk factors by having volunteers embedded into their team to support patients with lower needs.

We will be using our Insight and & Impact (I&I) service to evaluate many of these waiting well volunteer interventions and will be sharing emerging findings and evidence of impact by the end of this year. For now, you can view the wide range of possible outcomes and beneficiaries of waiting well volunteer roles by viewing the example waiting well outcome models on our I&I browse projects page.

What's next?

We are aiming to help more organisations to build the Contact Centre volunteering services, where volunteers can befriend patients who are isolated or lonely, or to call patients on waiting lists. This service will help ensure patients are ok or signpost them to community services for more needed support. If this is something you would be interested in learning more about, please get in touch with us today at help@helpforce.community and we can share more details with you.

Organisations that we are working with are:

  • Aneurin Bevan Hospital
  • Borth Surgery
  • Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust
  • George Eliot Hospital
  • Hounslow and Richmond Community Trust
  • Kingston Hospital
  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Warwickshire Foundation Trust
  • University Hospital Conventry & Warwockshire
  • University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust
  • Yeovil Hospital

Sign up for a free information session here and learn how we can help you develop volunteer roles and services that work for your organisation!