Nurses value the contribution of hospital volunteers, saying they free up time for clinical care and improve patients’ experiences, according to a new report from the King’s Fund.
The report, commissioned by Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) and volunteering scheme Helpforce, is based on a survey of nearly 300 hospital staff in England including nurses, doctors and support staff.
“We encourage NHS bosses to sit up and take note of the critical role their staff say volunteers play”
According to those behind the exercise, it the first time NHS frontline staff have been surveyed on their views about volunteers.
The report suggests there is strong support for volunteering among frontline staff who say volunteers provide important practical help from doing tea rounds and picking up medicines to offering companionship, comfort and emotional support to patients.
In turn, this frees up pressurised frontline staff to concentrate on clinical, which improves working conditions for them as well as boosting patients’ experiences of care.
In all, 90% of staff who took part in the survey said they believed volunteering add a lot of value for patients with nearly three quarters – 74% – saying volunteers add value for staff.
About a third said volunteers provided essential reassurance and company for patients while nearly one in three respondents felt volunteers freed up their time to focus on clinical care.
“Supporting trusts to develop effective volunteering strategies… are all areas where we can add significant value”
Many reported interacting with volunteers on a regular basis with more than half said they had interacted with volunteers in the past week.
The think tank’s report shows the majority – 82% – of nurses said the enjoyed working with volunteers.
For example, Anna Chadwick, lead dementia nurse at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, described the key role played by RVS volunteers at Leighton Hospital.
“The impact of volunteers giving their time to offer meaningful support to people who are unwell and often lonely and frightened, is immeasurable,” she said.
“The hospital environment can be overwhelming and a friendly face and chat can make the world of difference to a person’s experience,” said Mr Chadwick.
She said some volunteers had recently done extra training in order to help patients at mealtimes use Reminiscence Interactive Therapy Activity technology.
She added that staff saw volunteers as “an important part of the ward team and miss their presence when they are not there”.
But the King’s Fund research also throws up some issues around the deployment of volunteers with the biggest challenge being a lack of clarity regarding boundaries between the roles of staff and volunteer helpers.
Some staff raised concerns about the potential to rely on volunteers too much in services that are increasingly under pressure.
They also suggested volunteers might have more impact if they had better training and a better understanding and knowledge of their role.
The report follows the recent announcement of a partnership between RVS and Helpforce to look at ways of increasing the number of volunteers in the NHS to ease pressure on the health service – with volunteering expected t feature in the NHS long-term plan due out this month.
It makes a number of recommendations to NHS leaders to help them maximise the impact of volunteers in their hospitals, including the need for all acute trusts to have an adequately resourced volunteering strategy.
The report also says trusts needs to ensure frontline staff are trained and empowered to develop supportive working relationships with volunteers.
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Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said it was important to understand how frontline staff felt about volunteers if steps to boost volunteering in the NHS were to take off.
“We found that frontline staff clearly appreciate the human kindness volunteers bring into busy hospital life, provided they are not being used as a substitute for paid staff,” he said.
“We encourage NHS bosses to sit up and take note of the critical role their staff say volunteers play in enhancing patient experience,” said Mr Murray.
RVS chief executive Catherine Johnstone said the report highlighted “opportunities and challenges”.
“Supporting trusts to develop effective volunteering strategies, providing greater clarity around the role volunteers can and should play, providing the right training to help volunteers perform those roles and developing bespoke service offerings to get more volunteers on to wards, are all areas where we can add significant value,” she said.