NHS hospitals get £11 in value for every £1 they invest in volunteers, a study suggests.
More than 78,000 volunteers work in hospitals across England, contributing more than 13 million hours per year, according to a report by the King’s Fund.
Sponsored by the Department of Health, the study received responses from 91 acute NHS trusts in England.
It found trusts believed volunteers play a critical role in improving patient experience, including helping patients to eat well.
But there was considerable variation in the number of volunteers in each trust, with some having as few as 35 while others had 1,300.
Nevertheless, 87% of trusts expected the number of volunteers to increase over the next three years, in most cases by more than 25%.
Volunteers also now tend to be younger than they were five years ago.
Amy Galea, senior researcher at the King’s Fund and lead author of the report, said: “Volunteering has a critical role to play in improving services for patients.
“It supports many national aspirations such as improving the experience of patients, building stronger relationships between services and communities and creating social value.
“Our survey shows that volunteers are being used in increasingly imaginative ways which are valued highly by patients, staff and the public.
“The challenge now is for the NHS to develop in more detail its understanding of the impact that volunteers have - this should help to enable all hospitals to harness the potential of volunteering.”
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