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 is the national COVID-19 response lead for the nursing, midwifery and care professions in England. She took up the post of Chief Nursing Officer for England in January 2019, and before this enjoyed national appointments with NHS Improvement and Monitor as well as regional and Trust leadership roles. As Regional Chief Nurse for the Midlands and East, she championed the ‘Stop the Pressure’ campaign; nearly halving the number of pressure ulcers in the region, improving care for patients, and delivering cost savings to the NHS.

Ruth is passionate about nurturing the next generation of NHS nursing and midwifery leaders, encouraging professional development opportunities and putting in place the optimal cultural conditions for all NHS employees to thrive. 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 young daughter, Ruth strives to balance her professional and home life, and encourages others to do the same.

Find Ruth on Twitter @CNOEngland / #teamCNO.