Hospital volunteering in the 21st century

In the latest in our series of blogs to mark Volunteers Week 2016, the Chair of the NHS Providers Governor Policy Board gives a modern take on the tradition of volunteering in hospitals:

I’ve just spent this morning volunteering at my local hospital – not running the gift shop or café, serving tea or coffee to patients, or even helping direct patients and visitors around the labyrinth of a busy London hospital.

Instead, I was taking part in one of annual inspections all NHS hospitals in England must undertake of their patient facilities and services.

This is just one of the things I do as a patient-elected governor at my local NHS Foundation Trust.

Foundation Trusts (FT) are an integral part of today’s NHS. Fundamental to the model are the concepts of a membership – usually open to all patients and communities served by the trust, and staff – and governors, elected from and by the membership.

In many ways, the FT governor role links back to the long tradition of volunteering associated with hospitals and the care of the sick. Pre-NHS, many of our most famous hospitals owe their origins to volunteer donations and input.

As a patient governor, I sit alongside other elected governors representing patients, the public and staff. Together with a small number of appointed governors representing other stakeholders, including local authorities, commissioners of services and the local university, we make up the Council of Governors (CoG).

Although we are an integral part of the Trust’s governance, unlike school governors or charity trustees, we do not set the strategic vision and direction of the organisation. Neither do we oversee financial performance or hold the executive team to account for performance. These are the responsibilities of non-executive directors (NEDs). Our primary responsibilities as governors are to hold the NEDs to account, and to represent the interests of the local community.

Despite our different skills, knowledge, backgrounds and standpoints, we share many common motivations for taking on this role. There is a strong desire to improve the quality of care for patients; a strong sense of community service; and a desire to put back into the system.

My personal motivations for becoming a governor were similar to those that drive many people to volunteer. Recently retired, I had time on my hands and wanted to find ways of putting my professional skills to good use for the benefit of the local community. After a career working in public policy, particularly health, becoming an FT governor was a natural step, particularly as I used the Trust’s services.

What I do as a governor is extremely varied and fulfilling, and I can tailor it to my particular skills and interests. As well as attending the bi-monthly CoG meeting, and participating in various Board’s main committees and working groups, we regularly visit wards and services providing invaluable insight into the quality of services patients receive.

The great value of our contribution lies in bringing a fresh eye to issues, asking the difficult questions, and building a bridge between the Trust and the patients and communities it serves.

Like many volunteer roles, being a governor has its challenges. How do we really hold NEDs to account? How can we truly represent the large and diverse community served by the trust? How do we, as lay people, keep on top of the important issues in the current, rapidly changing environment of the NHS?

Looking at my fellow governors, I see a continued commitment to traditional volunteering values, albeit adapting to the challenges of a twenty-first century NHS.

Frances Blunden

Frances Blunden has been an elected patient governor at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust since October 2014.

She also chairs the NHS Providers Governor Policy Board.

Frances has had a career as a highly experienced policy analyst and adviser, with particular expertise in health and regulatory issues. She has established a reputation as an authoritative and effective advocate for consumers with a long-standing commitment to improving the quality and safety of healthcare, strengthening complaint-handling and achieving effective patient and public engagement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. John Black says:

    I am 68 years old and even though I suffer with severe emphysema I volunteer as a PLACE Inspector. I have just completed 15 inspections with Merseycare NHS Trust. I am also a Healthwatch Enter & View member and carry out inspections at Various hospitals and Care Homes. I am a ‘test patient’ for doctors examinations such as OSCE and PACES. This work is voluntary and unpaid.
    The NHS needs a variety of people to volunteer to do service which is valuable to patient care. The various Hospital Trusts and CCG boards need to actively attract members of the public to be part of the volunteer core for the NHS.

  2. Maurice. Hoffman says:

    I have been doing place assessments for imperial for the last four years since the start. Imperial has a place steering group that meets monthly as part of the committee system. Myself and other assessor sit on the group. Overall everybody at imperial wants to make place and the action that follows a success. Money has Been spent and the results have been seen. The steering group is also the means for staff to bring problems regarding facilities and estates if they are not solved locally.
    For place to be a tool for Improvement. It is Important to have a group with patients within the committee structure to review the assessments, draw up an action plan and to monitor implementation.

  3. Chris Reid says:

    What ever happened to the ward orderley’s? It would seem we want all the NHS staff to work for nothing unless of course they are consultants and above. I have no doubts the volunteers do a vital role in helping the patients and the hospitals to run smoothly. I then hear about the extortionate pay some of the senior managers and doctors receive. I have to question their real motives for coming into medicine. Sadly the nice polish you put in the facr of volunteering does not hide the cracks of serious underfunding.