We need more people helping in hospitals

Today the Kings Fund announced that there are as many volunteers in the health and social care space as there are staff – 3 million of each. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, yet so often the work of this army of volunteers goes un-noticed and the impact they are having isn’t quantified.

Over the last year we’ve been backing Kings College Hospital to increase their volunteer base from 150 to more than 1000 volunteers a month. They’ve got a simple and smart model to not only get more volunteers on Wards, but also make sure that the volunteers feel part of the hospital team helping patients to feel comfortable and get better faster.

We think others could copy some of the techniques they’ve deployed. That’s why we’re excited today to launch Helping in Hospitals to back other hospitals to replicate the model. We’ve set aside up to £1.5m to back up to 15 hospitals to significantly expand and improve their volunteering services and make sure thousands more patients have the benefit of a supportive volunteer on hand to improve their experience of hospital.

In designing Helping with Hospitals we’ve been drawn to a cluster of pioneering hospitals across England that are already running innovative volunteer services. Places like:

  • King’s College University Hospital which designed their volunteering offer around things staff would like to do to help patients but couldn’t because they don’t have time. This generated a list of simple, humane acts of kindness, from welcoming and guiding people around the building, to holding the hand of someone waiting for surgery – precisely the tasks volunteers now undertake.
  • Aintree University Hospital which provides accredited training for volunteers in things like hand and arm massage. The volunteers use these skills to help stroke patients recover after a stroke. 
  • Norwich and Norfolk Hospital Trust which uses ‘bleep buddies’ brilliantly.  Volunteers carry a hospital pager (a bleep) so they can be contacted for ad hoc tasks to speed things up in the hospital - like collecting clinic notes to fit a patient into a late cancellation slot or collecting prescriptions from pharmacy so that a patient can be discharged quickly.

Evidence from these hospitals suggests that patients really appreciate this sort of support from volunteers. Our hunch is that not only does volunteering improve patient satisfaction (helping patients feel more comfortable and less lonely for example), but it also makes a real difference to recovery and discharge rates. Through Helping in Hospitals we intend to gather data to back this up.

No-one likes to spend time in hospital. It’s an experience we all dread. Knowing we have access to a world class healthcare system in the UK, the NHS, is immensely reassuring. So too are simple acts of compassion in times of crisis – someone to hold your hand, to buy a paper or book a taxi.

We hope that Helping in Hospitals gives hospitals the best possible chance of recruiting thousands more volunteers and empowers them with the evidence of how to use them most effectively. And in doing so we hope the initiative goes some small way to making sure that more patients have access to the generosity and care of volunteers like those at King’s, Aintree and Norwich and Norfolk Hospitals.



Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Chief Partnership Officer

Vicki was Chief Partnership Officer

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