Launching our Volunteer Innovators Programme and two new reports

11th February 2019

Helpforce today announce the outcomes from its work with five pioneering NHS hospital trusts, showing how volunteers have made a positive impact supporting staff and patients, and and sharing their skills and knowledge to benefit others.

The findings, which explore the impact of volunteer interventions at each of the five trusts that Helpforce began working with in 2017, made possible by National Lottery funding, will be used to maximise the benefits of volunteering in other NHS settings.

Key results include:

  • Volunteers at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust contributed to the reduction of ‘Did not attend’ rates by around 50 per cent by providing appointment reminders
  • 93 per cent of staff at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust said that volunteers saved them time to concentrate on their core roles[1]
  • Staff observed a 53 per cent increase in the confidence of young volunteers at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, who provided more than 500 patients with social interactions and support
  • Volunteers providing transport services at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust saved patients a total of more than 16 hours of waiting time, from the point of discharge to going home
  • 96 per cent of patients offered support at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust accepted mealtime assistance from volunteers

The insights, which are brought together in two reports co-produced with the five NHS Trusts that co-designed the initiative, also highlight the importance of investing in volunteer support and training, the need for volunteers to be well integrated with staff teams, and the crucial role of leadership and governance. The scheme ultimately intends to harness the power of volunteers in communities to bring huge change through a wide range of important additional support for patients.

The reports coincide with the launch of Helpforce’s new Volunteering Innovators Programme. Over the next 18 months, Helpforce will work with 12 new NHS hospital trusts (with 10 being funded by NHS England and two by the Royal Voluntary Service) to develop high-impact volunteer innovations that will be refined and shared to help other trusts in the UK adopt effective volunteer services.

The ten funded by the NHS England grant will each receive a £75,000 grant, and all twelve will have access to a range of supporting services, digital tools, resources and guidance. The trusts, who were chosen through a competitive process which received 115 applications from 90 trusts, will focus on a range of specific volunteer roles. The volunteer interventions have been identified as those which could make the most impact if refined, tested and scaled to other NHS settings.

The selected trusts and the volunteer roles they will focus on are:

  • Barts Health NHS Trust – Bleep Volunteers in the Emergency Department, who help staff with a wide variety of tasks, from collecting prescriptions to transferring a patient to X-ray
  • Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust – a focus on volunteers providing peer to peer emotional support and enhancing patient experience in a mental health setting
  • Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust – to provide support with end of life care in the community, enabling more people to die at home if they choose
  • Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – volunteers providing support to patients before, during and after operations
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – volunteers to support patients stay at home and receive community support
  • North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – support with patient discharge, as well as the ‘Hospital to Home’ and transport services
  • Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust – support with end of life care in the hospital, and testing how Bleep Volunteers focused on end of life care can support requests from wards across the hospital
  • Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust – assistance for patients at mealtimes
  • Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust – providing patient engagement and support with a specially developed model for companionship
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust – helping patients to stay mobile during their stay in hospital and supporting them with activities provided by physiotherapists

The two trusts that are being supported by the Royal Voluntary Service – St James’s University Hospital in Leeds and University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust – will focus on developing mobility, nutrition and hydration volunteers.

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, Founder and Chair of Helpforce, said:

“The positive findings from our work with five trusts demonstrates the real difference that volunteers can make for patients and staff, and we are excited to build on this so that more people can benefit more quickly. Our new Volunteering Innovators Programme gives us the opportunity to scale and share the most inspiring and effective volunteering initiatives across the United Kingdom, through our Learning Network. We received a huge number of applications from trusts wanting to become part of our new programme, which is testament to the great work already underway across the NHS and the enthusiasm for the development of effective volunteer roles. To help harness this, we are inviting all trusts who applied to now become part of our Learning Network.”

“Working closely with leading trusts, voluntary sector partners and NHS England, we can create a future where safe and reliable volunteering in the NHS is part of our everyday lives, helping patients and our brilliant frontline staff to get the very best from the health service.”

NHS England, which was an early supporter of Helpforce and provided funding to the five trusts Helpforce has worked with since 2017, has made volunteering a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Ian Dodge, National Director of Strategy and Innovation at NHS England, commented:

“Volunteers have always been part of the NHS, and we’re hugely grateful to the 78,000 people who currently volunteer in NHS hospitals. We want to help volunteers to make an even bigger impact and ensure that volunteering is well integrated into day-to-day hospital services. By shining a light on the best examples of volunteering we hope to inspire NHS staff across England to integrate volunteering for the benefit of patients, staff and volunteers themselves. In 2019, NHS England will also back Helpforce to find ways to support volunteers in primary care services.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive at Royal Voluntary Service said:

“Our strategic partnership with Helpforce sees both organisations committed to scaling up the number of volunteers supporting the health service to improve patient experience and outcomes. Trained volunteers involved in well-designed initiatives are exactly what the NHS needs which is why we are delighted to be working with Morecambe Bay Trust and St James Teaching Hospital on two pivotal pilots. We also know how appreciated volunteers are by frontline staff – the Kings Fund report we commissioned with Helpforce found that NHS staff working in acute trusts value the presence of volunteers as they free up their time to concentrate on clinical care.”

Joe Ferns, UK Funding Director at The National Lottery Community Fund said:

“With the support of National Lottery funding, staff, patients and volunteers have come together to co-design this programme and show the powerful impact of volunteering in hospitals. Volunteers play an important role in the NHS, providing support and services outside of the remit of NHS staff, and bring their skills and experience to make a difference in their community.”


The five pioneering trusts that Helpforce worked with to develop the two publications (and who will now continue to build on the work with Helpforce by refining and growing their volunteer roles) are:

  • Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

About Helpforce

Helpforce is working with hospitals, healthcare workers and the public to create the future of volunteering in the NHS. It wants to see a recognisable improvement in the range and quality of volunteer roles available to support patient care in hospital and at home.

Helpforce was formally established as a Community Interest Company in September 2017. Both its Board and Advisory Board includes leaders from across the NHS, voluntary and wider public sector.

Helpforce is supported by National Lottery funding through The National Lottery Community Fund (formally the Big Lottery Fund).

About The National Lottery Community Fund

We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.

We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.

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[1] 67% of staff reported that volunteers saved them between 1-60 minutes over the course of a day, and 20% said that volunteers saved them more than 60 minutes


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