How volunteering has been a saving grace for many NHS trusts

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett profile picture

24 September 2018

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett
Chair, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; and Executive Chairman, Helpforce


HelpForce, created in December 2016, was born from a simple idea - to bring more volunteers to help out in our NHS. Since then it has become clear that its success lies in its simplicity. It really is 'a no-brainer' as one chief executive said. Everywhere I go I am buoyed by the enthusiasm with which so many health leaders, volunteer managers, volunteers, staff, and patients, have for the possibilities well managed, trained volunteers bring to the health of our nation. We have joined forces with great charities, such as The Royal Voluntary Service; working together to ensure as many people as possible can get involved in our NHS and our healthcare, to support our staff, involve our communities. To be the HelpForce.

This passion is the very thing that drives all of us at HelpForce. In particular, we are proud of the forward-thinking hospital trusts who were the first to work with us, and have put so much energy into delivering a more integrated system of volunteering. In the first year, they have achieved a huge amount which we have shared through our Learning Network to inspire others across the country.

Here is a flavour of some of the work they are doing.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust linked up with local schools bringing enthusiastic students to their wards; opening doors for the students, who brought their energy and enthusiasm to helping staff and patients. In addition they have had approval to create a new 'therapeutic volunteer role' to assist with patient mobility.

Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust are working on volunteer transport services and building volunteer support for mobility on the wards, linking with their End PJ Paralysis campaign. Sandwell is due to be the first site to implement Better Impact - a volunteer management system (funded by HelpForce) that will result in better recruitment, engagement and analysis of their volunteers.

University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is introducing a new ward-based volunteer role that combines mealtime assistance, mobility and befriending roles to help patients keep well during their stay.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is looking at how volunteers can support discharge planning processes, and work in the community to support early intervention teams and help link patients to local community assets and services.

In Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where I am chair, we are seeing huge enthusiasm for 'Bleep Volunteers' who support patients and staff in a wide range of ways: on call to collect prescriptions; a listening ear for patients feeling anxious; ready to support people when they're leaving hospital. All this is freeing up time for our clinical staff to focus on their work. In fact, since expanding the Bleep service to support getting patients to clinics, attendance has improved from 20% to 100%. This is testament to the way volunteers are now integrated with staff teams.

It is testament to the work of these trusts, their staff and volunteers, that Sir Malcolm Grant recently committed to working in partnership with HelpForce to expand the diverse opportunities for volunteers to work closely alongside NHS staff, helping to free up their time. As a result we have opened applications to all trusts to apply for funding to expand their volunteering services through our 'Volunteer Innovators Programme'. This is a great opportunity for hospitals to develop valuable volunteer initiatives that provide vital help to busy staff, support for patients at all stages of their journey, and greater satisfaction for the volunteers themselves. Ones we look forward to sharing widely with our colleagues, as we bring more volunteers to the NHS.

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallet is chair of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Trust and executive chairman of Helpforce. He will be speaking at the annual conference and exhibition on 10 October. To view the programme and book your place visit the website.

About the author

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett profile picture

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett
Chair, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; and Executive Chairman, Helpforce

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett spent 25 years in the investment banking world, before becoming chief executive of Marie Curie from 2000 to 2012. In 2011 Tom chaired the independent UK review of British Philanthropy. A former chair of Imperial College's global health institute, Tom is now chair of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust , chair and co-founder of the Marshall Institute, founder and executive chairman of HelpForce and trustee of Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

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