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Youth volunteering and social action in health and care is a ‘must do’ – Professor Jane Cummings

This is national #iwill week which celebrates the huge impact young people make through volunteering and social action. Today, as it focuses on the many young people involved in health care settings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England explains why their work is so vital:

Many young people give their time and energies freely to support the health and care of others.

This includes helping out with a wide range of duties in a variety of care settings, such as hospitals and care homes. Volunteers provide much needed support, which could be anything from providing refreshments to patients right through to showing patients where to go for their appointment. In addition, volunteers share their ideas and insight to improve services for patients.

I am delighted that NHS England is participating in #iwill week and celebrating the huge impact that young people make nationally through volunteering and social action.

The invaluable difference this makes is perhaps best heard from the voices of young people themselves. One volunteer, Thines, provides support to the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health.

He said: “My life experience has given me a lot to think about and being able to use these experiences to positive and good use in order to improve the lives of children and young people across the country is such an uplifting and humbling experience.”

Amy, from the NHS Youth Forum, has found that volunteering in health care settings not only boosts her self-esteem, but also made her realise that by working together for patients, we can make change happen.

“Having the opportunity to use my voice and represent other young people has been incredible,” she said.  “It has enabled me to learn that my voice is valid and has reinforced that together we can make change happen. The process of being involved to generate change and progress doesn’t simply benefit a service, it made me realise that it’s beneficial to boosting my self-esteem no end and allowing me to take control of my life.

“On a personal level, it has been a platform where I have developed a self-identity and allowed me to establish what I want to do in life.”

Faye, a volunteer on the Chemotherapy day unit at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, also outlines how volunteering has not only brought significant benefits to patients, but also to herself as an individual.

She explained: “My volunteering journey includes befriending patients, taking the drinks and snacks trolley around each of the rooms of the ward, as well as to those waiting for their appointments.

“My role has made a huge difference to me as a person. I’ve become so much more confident, my communication skills have been improved hugely. The thing I love the most about my role is the satisfaction of being able to help someone in the smallest possible way. I may only be offering them a cup of tea or chatting to them for two minutes, but at the same time, I know I’m making a difference to their day and their time in hospital.”

Like all people who volunteer or share their voice, young people make a difference to people’s lives in so many different ways.

Firstly, they give their voice which is essential, particularly in shaping health services of the future.

Jim, a Learning Disability Nurse Consultant at Great Ormond Street, said: “Engaging and enabling children and young people with a learning disability to be involved in volunteering means we are less likely as a society to repeat the errors of the past. By doing this the message is clear that everybody’s life has worth and that each person has value and can contribute to improving service design and delivery.”

Volunteering also develops life skills and career opportunities. The NHS has a role in supporting young people, particularly around the shaping of a future caring society and ensuring we have a diverse workforce to deliver care in the years to come.

Lastly, involving young people in health and care helps them develop the confidence and skills to manage their own health and care, at a young age which stays with them for life.

Involving young people in shaping services of the future is certainly the right thing to do. If we are to achieve the ambitious vision outlined in the Five Year Forward View  and harness the involvement of people and communities, reduce health inequalities and involve people in decisions about the future of health and care services – then involving the 11.3 million young people in this country is ‘must do’.

Young people are essential in securing a healthy society, as well as a person centred and sustainable health and care service.

I encourage your organisation to make a pledge to involve more young people in your work and to encourage other organisations you work with as well. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all those young people out there that currently give up their time, energy, and ‘care’ to others.

Finally, #iwill continue to thank everyone who volunteers and contributes so much, and raise awareness about the importance of engaging young people in shaping health and care services of tomorrow.


Jane CummingsProfessor Jane Cummings is the Chief Nursing Officer for England.

Before progressing into general management she was previously a nurse specialising in Emergency Care and has held a wide variety of clinical and managerial roles including Director of Commissioning, Director of Nursing and Deputy Chief Executive.

In February 2014, she became the National Lead for emergency care which involved working closely with clinical colleagues and NHS managers to agree and implement the 98% operational standard. She has also worked as the nursing advisor for emergency care, and with the Royal College of Nursing to develop the role of nurses and improve the experience and care of patients requiring urgent and emergency care.

Jane moved to NHS North West in November 2007 where she held executive responsibility for the professional leadership of nursing, quality, performance, QIPP and commissioning. In October 2011, she was appointed the role of Chief Nurse for the North of England SHA Cluster.

She began the fulltime position of Chief Nursing Officer for England in June 2012 and is the professional lead for all nurses and midwives in England (with the exception of public health) and published the ‘6Cs’ and ‘Compassion in Practice’ in December of that year.

Jane is the NHS England national director sponsor for the programme to transform care for people with learning disabilities and chairs the delivery board. She is also the lead national director for maternity.

Jane was awarded a Doctorate by Edge Hill University and is a visiting professor at Kingston University and St George’s University, London.

She is also a trustee for Macmillan Cancer Support and a clinical Ambassador for the Over the Wall Children’s Charity where she volunteers as a nurse providing care for children affected by serious illnesses.

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