Financial pressures risk undermining volunteering in NHS and social care

Published on Thursday, 14 March 2013 09:20
Posted by Scott Buckler

A new report published by The King's Fund has found that, unless a more strategic approach is taken, financial pressures risk undermining the use of volunteers in health and social care

An estimated 3 million people in England volunteer in the NHS, health charities and social care organisations, adding significant value to the work of paid staff. The report highlights the vital role they play in delivering services, for example assisting with mealtimes in hospitals, providing support for bereaved families and befriending older people in care homes. It suggests that volunteers could become an increasingly important part of the care team, providing trusted support to paid professionals and an important source of help for patients and service-users.

However, research undertaken for the report suggests that if the right steps are not taken, the funding squeeze in the NHS and cuts to local authority budgets could have a significant impact on volunteering. Financial pressures are prompting concerns about the motivation of public bodies in using volunteers and heightening sensitivities about them 'substituting' for paid staff in future. Budget cuts are also increasing pressure on voluntary organisations providing and co-ordinating volunteering opportunities, with some smaller grassroots organisations struggling to survive the economic downturn.

The King's Fund is today calling for a strategic approach to volunteering throughout the health and social care system. Commissioners and service providers need to focus on how volunteers will help improve quality and bring benefits to patients and communities. Boundaries between professional and volunteer roles also need to be clarified to allay concerns of job substitution.

Chris Naylor, Fellow at The King's Fund said:

'There are huge opportunities for volunteering to help transform health and social care services and bring about real improvements for patients and the wider public. However, for this to be realised service providers and commissioners must take a much more strategic approach to volunteering, with clarity of roles and clearly articulated objectives. Volunteering should be used as a means of improving quality rather than reducing short-term costs, and this vision needs to be communicated clearly.'

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