Every £1 invested in volunteering in the NHS yields services worth £11 in return, estimates a new report by The King’s Fund.
Volunteering in acute trusts in England: Understanding the scale and impact is based on the first national survey of volunteering in hospitals. The survey found that there are nearly 500 volunteers in the average acute trust, equating to more than 78,000 volunteers in hospitals across England who contribute more than 13 million hours per year. Based on current NHS pay rates, this translates to a return of £11 for every £1 invested in the training and management of volunteers.
The report, sponsored by the Department of Health, highlights the benefits volunteers bring to the health service, with survey respondents demonstrating the critical role they play in improving patient experience. Volunteers fulfil a variety of different roles, from befriending to collecting survey data, supporting patients to eat well and supporting the running of mock hospital inspections.
In some hospitals, volunteers are seen as an integral part of the care team, but it is clear that few trusts are formally measuring the impact of volunteers at present. Furthermore, many hospitals are not benefiting from volunteers as much as they could do; there is considerable variation too in the number of volunteers – some reported as few as 35 volunteers, while others had 1,300 – and the number of volunteers is not necessarily linked to the size of the trust.
However, volunteering is clearly a growth area; 87 per cent of respondents expected the number of volunteers to increase over the next three years, in most cases by more than 25 per cent. No one said that they expected it to decrease. The profile of volunteers is also changing; two-thirds of survey respondents said that new volunteers now tend to be younger than five years ago, and more than half said that there is more diversity in terms of ethnicity.
The report highlights areas where more research is needed to understand the opportunities available so that the benefits of volunteering can be better understood and adopted more widely. In particular, there is clearly a need to include impact on patient experience and quality of care when measuring the value of volunteering. Many trusts surveyed were measuring impact in some way already, but it is less clear how this information is used to improve planning, evaluation and service changes.
Amy Galea, Senior Researcher at The King’s Fund and lead author of the report, said: ‘Volunteering has a critical role to play in improving services for patients. It supports many national aspirations such as improving the experience of patients, building stronger relationships between services and communities and creating social value.
‘Our survey shows that volunteers are being used in increasingly imaginative ways which are valued highly by patients, staff and the public. The challenge now is for the NHS to develop in more detail its understanding of the impact that volunteers have – this should help to enable all hospitals to harness the potential of volunteering.’