Acevo urges government to fund thousands of winter volunteers in the NHS

Chief executive Sir Stephen Bubb has written to ministers, urging them to use the expertise of three charities to reduce the pressure of older patients on A&E

A&E under pressure in winter
A&E under pressure in winter

The chief executives body Acevo has called on the government to provide funding for thousands of extra volunteers who would work with older people in hospitals and thus reduce pressure on NHS services over the winter.

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, has written to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to suggest that Acevo could coordinate work with the British Red Cross, Age UK and the Royal Voluntary Service, expanding their existing programmes with NHS trusts to provide "crisis support" in 53 hospitals identified by NHS England as needing additional support.

The volunteers would work with hospitals and GPs to identify and support elderly people, reducing A&E attendance and hospital admissions, and to secure early discharges.

Figures from Age UK say the annual cost to the NHS in England of cold homes is about £1.36bn because older people become seriously ill and increase the pressure on A&E.

Bubb says in his letter that the detailed costing and implementation of the scheme would be left to the Department of Health. But Acevo estimates that its proposals would cost about £40m to implement.

The letter says that reducing the amount of time spent in A&E would cost £26.6m, providing support on A&E and elderly wards would cost £10m and supporting GPs with the most vulnerable patients would need £2m.

"I ask that you urgently make funding available to allow three charities to work with 53 target hospitals to provide crisis support this winter," Bubb writes.

"This initiative would serve as a model for effective partnership between the voluntary and community sector and the NHS."

It is understood that Hunt plans to meet Bubb to discuss the proposals.

The plans are based on schemes already provided by the three charities.

A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said the charity already provided volunteers in A&E departments across the country and the plans outlined in the letter would build on this.

The volunteers assist elderly people who could be treated elsewhere by making appointments and making follow-up visits afterwards, which prevents unnecessary admissions to A&E, according to the Red Cross.

Volunteers from the charity also assist with discharges where there is no clinical need for people to remain in hospital, but concern remains that there is no support for them at home.

The Royal Voluntary Service provides help for patients who are poorly and stay under the formal care of hospital consultants, but are cared for at home.

A spokeswoman from Age UK said the charity did not want to comment on the letter.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Winter is always tough and, with more than a million extra people coming through the doors compared with 2010, it's important that the NHS is well prepared. Planning started earlier than ever this year, with £250m available to the A&Es under the most pressure.

"NHS hospitals are looking at all the options to help cope with increased pressure. Charities and the independent sector have an important role to play in places and can offer extra expertise and services."

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