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EDITOR’S COMMENT

'Volunteers are an exceptional support to the healthcare sector'

  • 1 Comment

Volunteers should be used to do the extras that even a well resourced nursing team would be unable to offer

I often say that nurses prop up the healthcare sector, but to be honest, there is another group also keeping the service afloat. Its volunteers. Chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings this week encouraged leaders in healthcare to support their volunteers more, and to get out and meet them.

”I hear of volunteers doing exceptional work all over the health service, providing transport to improve access to healthcare services”

She quite rightly paid tribute to the three million often “under-appreciated” volunteers who give their time to support health, welfare and disability organisations.

I hear of volunteers doing exceptional work all over the health service, providing transport to improve access to healthcare services, supporting patients through meal times, providing personal care or simply offering companionship to those who don’t have visitors. The mental and physical health benefits provided by these people is tangible – most of all to the patient.

Ms Cummings is encouraging leaders to go out, meet and thank the volunteers working for their service users, but also discover how these motivated and invaluable people can support their organisations even more.

”Ms Cummings is encouraging leaders to go out, meet and thank the volunteers working for their service users”

We may not like the situation, but limited resources, ever-tightening budgets and staff shortages mean volunteers are now essential, and Ms Cummings is right to recognise this.

Healthcare leaders do need to think more broadly and creatively about how they use volunteers. Could existing staff teams train them and broaden their skills and usefulness? Could their passion for providing care be nurtured to the extent that volunteers could be trained to plug the gaps in staffing?

”Healthcare leaders do need to think more broadly and creatively about how they use volunteers”

These things may be possible, but that doesn’t mean they should happen. We not should ask volunteers to do anything where they would be replacing qualified staff, and I hope this latest call to action is not aimed at finding volunteers to come in and substitute nursing staff.

Volunteers can make an amazing contribution, but this must be different to that of registered nurses – or indeed healthcare assistants. Volunteers should be used to do the extras that even a well resourced nursing team would be unable to offer – they should not be seen as a source of free nursing care.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • michael stone

    Anybody who has been reading 'NHS planning stuff' for the last year or so, must have noticed a marked stress on 'using voluntary organisations'.

    It is one thing to use voluntary organisations as an addition to NHS and Social Care Services which are in essence 'already fairly good', and quite another to deliberately rely on voluntary organisations to 'prop up a failing 'official' system' - quite where the dividing line is, is a bit 'blurry'. But I'm bothered that this Goverment is increasingly trying to off-load things which used to be NHS or Social Care responsibilities, to charities, etc - I'm not at all keen, on them getting away with that.

    There is also a lot of 'care' provided by individuals who are 'family carers' or just friends - as opposed to 'people volunteering for organisations'.

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