Raising awareness of the need for health and care volunteers

In the latest of our series of blogs we are running to mark Volunteers’ Week, Duncan Tree gives insight into the invaluable work of the Volunteering Matters charity:

Through its work for the voluntary sector Health and Care Strategic Partners programme, Volunteering Matters demonstrates the need for volunteers in helping meet the demands and transformation needs of our health and care system.

This work ranges from person-centred care and integration, to compassionate, quality and values driven care. And it has recently included helping to ensure that vanguard sites are encouraged to think about the engagement of volunteers in improving health and wellbeing.

Volunteers are often people with huge life and professional experience. Volunteers offer a fresh pair of eyes – something that is increasingly being recognised as important in terms of helping improve the quality of health and care services.

The three million volunteers that the Kings Fund’s report of 2013 estimated are engaged in health and care settings represent a hugely valuable source of intelligence on the quality of citizens’ experiences of health and care services.  However, our work suggests that quality is one of those areas where both the experience and potential of volunteers and volunteering is under-utilized.

Volunteers are invariably rooted in communities in ways which professionals aren’t always able to be, so they can help build the bridge between services and community.

Volunteers have the ability to help staff deliver person centred care but this requires ‘rebooting’ the relationship between statutory services and the voluntary sector, to ensure that the value of volunteering is realised.

But volunteering is also about citizenship and inclusion, so our discussion needs to reflect the importance of volunteering in giving people agency and in doing so enabling them to improve and maintain their health and wellbeing, through sharing their time, skills and assets for the benefit of others.

This is vital if we are to achieve the goal of moving the NHS from a reactive or sickness service to a wellbeing service, where we can all be active NHS Citizens and not just patients.

‎We need, therefore, much more understanding, acknowledgement of, and investment in the potential of volunteers and volunteering to help meet the heath and care needs of our increasingly diverse and dynamic society. The Five Year Forward View gives us the opportunity to do that. We must take it.

Duncan Tree

Duncan Tree is Head of Policy and Performance at Volunteering Matters, the national volunteering charity with more than 52 years’ experience in developing and promoting citizen led volunteering initiatives which improve health and care outcomes.

Volunteers have always been at the heart of person centred, quality health care. Volunteering Matters (formerly CSV), is committed to demonstrating and promoting the importance in improving health and care outcomes. Our work and that of our partners in the volunteer involving sector continues to illustrate the positive impact of (and the need for investment in) volunteering as an essential element of our health and care system.

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