Scheme aimed at doubling number of volunteers in NHS is launched

A community interest company called HelpForce will offer practical solutions, says its leader, Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett

Volunteering: initiative wants 150,000 NHS volunteers by 2021
Volunteering: initiative wants 150,000 NHS volunteers by 2021

A community interest company led by Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett has been formed with the aim of doubling the number of volunteers in the NHS by 2021.

Hughes-Hallett, a former chief executive of Marie Curie, said NHS staff were under "intense pressure" and the new organisation, called HelpForce, would offer practical solutions.

Hughes-Hallett said HelpForce, which aims to expand the number of NHS volunteers from 78,000 to 150,000 by 2021, would launch a five-year fundraising campaign in January to generate £5m.

Charities, including the British Red Cross and the Royal Voluntary Service, are supporting the initiative, along with NHS England and the professional services firm Deloitte.

Hughes-Hallett, who is chair of Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust Hospital, said the public service union Unison and the Royal College of Nursing were also on board.

"One of the commitments I have made to the unions is that this is about relieving staff and improving healthcare," he told Third Sector. "It is absolutely not about saving money."

Volunteers, he said, were "rarely integrated into NHS strategies or service delivery plans, and this is a missed opportunity" and HelpForce, which has five staff, would "unlock their potential".

Hughes-Hallett first called for support for the initiative in December last year. He provided start-up funding for HelpForce, which has since benefited from a £50,000 grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation and £250,000 from NHS England.

NHS England's funding will support pilot programmes to develop and test new interventions involving volunteers in five NHS trusts.

Hughes-Hallett said he did not envisage HelpForce becoming a large national organisation but rather a catalyst for bringing together and scaling up best practice.

He said it would flip the typical volunteering model by asking clinical staff how volunteers could help them and finding ways of accommodating this.

HelpForce is working with the King’s Fund to develop the HelpForce learning network, which will share examples of volunteering innovation in healthcare.

Chris Naylor, senior fellow in health policy at King’s Fund, said: "Volunteering has a crucial part to play in the NHS, and is an area where there is lots of potential to innovate and find new ways of improving care for patients."

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said it was working with HelpForce to "catalyse new ways" of harnessing the power of volunteers.

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