Patients, volunteers and the NHS were all winners in the Big Hospital Experiment

In the first of two blogs, the Chief Nursing Officer for England gives her views on the BBC 2 programme that followed the fortunes of 14 young people:

Passionate, youthful enthusiasm, energy and the willingness to gift your time for others, are some of the thoughts that spring to mind as I reflect on BBC 2’s “The Big Hospital Experiment”.

If you haven’t watched it, please do – we can all be inspired and moved by the 14 young people that undertook clinical volunteering roles at the Royal Derby Hospital.

Volunteering has always been a huge part of the NHS, but this is first time that I’m aware of where such clinical volunteering roles have been trialled in a hospital setting in this country.

Inspired by a social care scheme in Germany, it aimed to see whether additional support from young people volunteering within clinical settings can be useful to help relieve the pressures of front-line staff and support with the demands of an increase in patient admissions to make a positive difference to patient care.

Each week I found myself moved emotionally as I watched the volunteers improve the experience of patients and their families and the way their involvement facilitated patients responding more to care, such as starting to eat again or starting to engage with their physiotherapy programme.

Although most of the feedback about the programme has been positive, there have been some comments about either the level of training that the volunteers received or concerns that this is an attempt to replace paid staff with volunteers.

I therefore wanted to reassure people that we will always recommend volunteer roles are developed alongside staff and staff side unions. Indeed, we are currently refreshing our “Recruitment and Management of Volunteers in the NHS” guidance to better reflect this.

The Royal Derby Hospital ensured all the young volunteers received comprehensive training before any practical application and the volunteers were supervised throughout. I am delighted that the hospital is now considering how to introduce similar roles on a long-term basis.

As we’ve seen in the programme, young volunteers bring so much value to the NHS but it’s also important that we support youth volunteering to invest in the future of young people and give them access to opportunities.

One of the young volunteers in the programme was Deborah, who we were first introduced to in week one of the programme when she was asked to change a stoma.

That experience, and others, had a profound effect on Deborah who I met at the recent Health and Innovation Expo 2019 in Manchester and I asked her if she would tell her story.

I am pleased to say she agreed and tomorrow she will share her experiences in her own blog. As with the Big Hospital Experiment, make sure you tune in.

Ruth May

Ruth enjoyed national appointments with NHS Improvement and Monitor, as well as regional and trust leadership roles, before becoming the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for England in January 2019.

In June 2022, as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours, Ruth was awarded a DBE for her services to nursing, midwifery and the NHS since she started her nurse training in 1985. Upon receiving her Damehood, Ruth recognised the expertise of nursing and midwifery colleagues in caring for people at every stage of their lives and the vital role that the professions and care staff played during the pandemic. Ruth has led the nursing, midwifery and care professions’ response to COVID-19 in England and led collaborative work with UK CNO colleagues, the NMC and trade unions to ensure agreement and consistent messaging on key issues.

She is passionate about nurturing the next generation of NHS nursing and midwifery leaders and encouraging professional development opportunities. This includes advocating for improved mental health awareness, championing volunteer activity to support the frontline workforce, and she is a vocal supporter of the WRES agenda and increased diversity across the NHS.

Proud mum to her wonderful daughter, Ruth is a great believer in a healthy professional and home life balance for all.

Find Ruth on Twitter @CNOEngland / #teamCNO.