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Volunteers are an important part of the NHS and were prioritised in the NHS long term plan as an essential part of every hospital. So, it’s vital they remain a constant and available resource across the country, says Sam Ward, director of commissioned services at The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS)
Volunteers can support your hospital in a number of ways, including the offering of on-ward support. They can also be involved in assisting patients with exercise and at mealtimes, and encouraging hydration and nutrition.
Support like this sees positive outcomes in terms of improvements to patients’ mental and physical health, and therefore also to recovery times and reductions in readmissions.
It also provides health benefits for the volunteer; building their resilience and reducing the likelihood that they will need to access health services themselves.
Creating a sustainable system – both in terms of service and the pipeline of volunteers – has its challenges. However, with mounting pressure across the NHS, healthcare leaders should ensure they have this support available to them.
Volunteers are essential to the NHS and hospital and trust leaders must anticipate and combat common challenges to creating a sustainable volunteering service.
One such challenge is high turnover of people as some volunteers, such as students, may only volunteer at specific times.
Although taking on student volunteers can create an incredibly important lifelong relationship between them and volunteering and add to the NHS workforce, careful planning is required to ensure that services do not drop off when students are not available.
High turnover can also be the result of volunteers who have had a negative experience. It is therefore valuable to work with a volunteer service provider with significant experience; who knows what they are doing.
This will reduce the risk of high turnover caused by bad experiences and ensure hospitals retain a high quality and well-trained stream of volunteers.
Patients, especially those who are older, may otherwise miss out on essential support in their physical and mental recovery, risking ‘pyjama paralysis’ and deterioration in muscle mass. Overall, this means they have a lower quality of experience, and risk having to prolong their stay as a result of their health worsening.
Additionally, as many organisations services also support the discharge process to ensure patients are able to return home, not having this service can lead to patients who don’t have other support remaining in hospital for longer than needed.
All of this indicates the value a consistent volunteer support service can bring, not only for the patients individually but for the overall patient flow across the hospital, as well as for resulting figures and costs for the trust.
There are many solutions when it comes to ensuring your hospital retains the volunteering services it needs to support patient experience, NHS staff and the local community, and it is important to find one that works for you.
By working with a volunteering partner to consistently deliver a sustainable service, you improve your chances of providing the best overall outcomes for the volunteers themselves, as well as for staff, patients and your hospital.