Our new plans for NHS volunteers

After Sir Malcolm Grant used the 2018 Health and Innovation Expo in Manchester to praise the tens of thousands of people who volunteer for the NHS, the Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities explains how the health service needs to renew its commitment to volunteering:

Giving time to help others sits deep in the British ethos and volunteering has always been as important to the NHS as it has to many charities.

As you walk around any hospital you will see some of the volunteers on whom we depend, day in, day out, welcoming people, showing them around and giving a helping hand. Many more support behind the scenes, in wards, services and offices.  Outside of the hospital, many thousands more help within the community and are a crucial part of life for people living with frailty, dementia or other long-term conditions.

Yet the NHS does not always give volunteers the opportunity to do all they are capable of contributing.

Many more people want to volunteer than there are opportunities available -42% of all NHS trusts with a volunteering programme do not currently have any vacancies.  And the variety of volunteering opportunities available within the NHS is not well understood.

I recently spent a week at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust trying out some of the newer volunteering roles, working as part of clinical teams, which make such a difference. It was an enormously rewarding experience with an immediate impact on patients, carers and their families.

Volunteering improves patient experience and helps the NHS improve outcomes. But it also supports staff and helps the NHS be more efficient. Recently, for example, I met a team of recycling volunteers at Salisbury Hospital who cleaned, repaired and reused equipment and made sure nothing went to waste.  This initiative is saving the Trust over £100,000 per year.

NHS England and NHS Improvement want to help more NHS Trusts achieve more with their volunteers. Today we have announced a new £2.3 million partnership with Helpforce, a community interest company, to help another ten NHS Trusts make and achieve ambitious new plans for volunteers.

They will be part of a national network to share learning, so that new volunteering roles, and latest practice in recruiting, rewarding and supporting volunteers, spreads across the NHS.

Volunteers are not a substitute for staff. But volunteers can do things staff cannot, spending all day, for example, with someone at the end of life or using their lived experience as a patient to help people learn to live and thrive with a painful condition.

Renewing our commitment to volunteering means renewing our commitment to our amazing volunteers and making sure we give them every opportunity to help the NHS be the best it can be.

Dr Neil Churchill

Neil is Director for People and Communities at NHS England, having joined the NHS after a 25-year career in the voluntary sector. His work includes understanding people’s experiences of the NHS, involving people and communities in decision-making and leading change to improve the quality and equality of care. He has a particular focus on strengthening partnerships with unpaid carers, volunteers and the voluntary sector.

Neil has previously been a non-executive director for the NHS in the South of England, is a member of the Strategy Board for the Beryl Institute and Chair of Care for the Carers in East Sussex. He is himself an unpaid carer. Neil tweets as @neilgchurchill


  1. Catherine Mckeown says:

    How do I get involved in the Helpforce scheme for my organisation?

  2. David Burbidge says:

    Helpforce maybe a good starting point,but the size and diversity of both the NHS and of course Social Care, is so vast that any changes will take a very long time to embed

  3. Jessica Bush says:

    This is very good news for volunteering in the NHS but I do hope that NHS England won’t forget the many trusts that are not part of HelpForce and have, and are, at the forefront of innovation in volunteering in the NHS

    • yvonne rautenbach says:

      I have applied to my local hospital many times with no response and also the form in the Daily Mail and heard nothing?