Why we can’t afford to overlook NHS volunteering in this General Election

27th November 2019

By Mark Lever, Chief Executive, Helpforce

If you put Brexit to one side it is quite clear that the NHS has been the most hotly debated topic during the build up to the General Election on 12 December. Each party is highlighting the pressure the NHS is under, whether that be from funding pressures, staff vacancies or increased demand for the services being provided in an increasingly stretched system.

Significant pledges to increase staff numbers, make new investment in infrastructure, and increase funding to support running costs abound. What is in no doubt is that the staff working in the NHS are under increasing pressure and this impacts their ability to provide the support and care to patients that they would wish to.

One element of staff and patient support that is missing from the current discourse is volunteering. At Helpforce we believe this is a mistake, as we see first-hand the power of volunteering to transform the health and care of patients in the NHS. Whether it is Bleep volunteers ensuring patients receive their medication more quickly from the pharmacy, volunteers supporting the patients to eat their meals on wards, or volunteers providing transport home from hospital, and ensuring patients who are on their own are settled in at home after a hospital stay.

Well trained and well supported volunteers reduce the time patients stay in hospital by making sure that they maintain their nutrition and hydration. They help them collect their medication and speed up the time it takes to leave hospital, and are supported to settle in when they return home. At Helpforce we work with many NHS Trusts and their volunteering managers to ensure that volunteers make the greatest impact possible on the health and wellbeing of patients and staff. We are always impressed by the commitment and passion everyone involved with volunteering has for the NHS. But it doesn’t run on fresh air.

Managing large teams of volunteers to ensure that they are well trained and supported does require investment. At a time when politicians are discussing where they will invest public money if they come to power, Helpforce would like to make a plea on behalf of everyone involved with volunteering in the NHS. We ask that the vital role volunteers play in our health services is not overlooked, or a nice to have. We ask the next Government to increase investment in volunteers to ensure that volunteering services are not just maintained, but expanded and embedded in our health and care in the long term.

We know it’s good for patients, we know it’s good for staff and we know it’s good for the volunteers too. I cannot think of a better set of outcomes for an investment!

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