Volunteer sitting with elderly man

A strategic approach to volunteering in the NHS

Published : 24/06/22 | Categories: News |

A report from the Kings Fund explores the current picture of volunteering in NHS trusts in England, identifying what could be done to enable volunteering programmes to make more significant contribution.

According to the report NHS trusts are missing valuable opportunities to enhance and capitalise on the contribution of volunteers. They need to engage with volunteering as a strategic opportunity.


Volunteer activity which adds value for organisations and staff includes wayfinding roles, capturing patient feedback and supporting service or quality improvement.

Many volunteer roles impact directly on patient experience and patient journeys. The unique nature of the relationship between volunteers and patients differs from and can complement the care of professional staff. Volunteers can bridge the gap between patients and the clinical team and can strengthen the capacity to provide person centred care.

Volunteers also stand to benefit themselves, with volunteering being associated with reduced mortality risk and improved mental wellbeing. It can increase an individual’s sense of social connectedness and self-worth as well as providing opportunities to develop a sense of purpose and enhance personal skills.


Approaches to recruitment should aim to be more inclusive of diverse local communities. We need to better understand the cultural factors and motivations that influence volunteering and to increase recruitment of volunteers who are representative of local communities. Those who are marginalised in society have the most to benefit from volunteering.


A strategic approach to volunteering which supports organisational strategy was found to include six common elements:

  • A dedicated voluntary services manager, able to work at senior level
  • Organisational leadership, including visibility at Board level
  • A plan for developing the scope and scale of volunteering
  • Means of integrating successful projects into ‘business as usual’
  • Funding and resources to support investment in volunteering. This is enabled by being able to demonstrate organisational value, for example through short term externally funded projects.
  • Awareness of the wider volunteering context – building relationships with external organisations who support volunteers that are active within the trust


National bodies can support a shift from focussing simply on what volunteers can do, to the development of strategic plans that maximise the value of volunteering. They  have a role to play, too, in enabling the capability and capacity to deliver these.

There are currently no professional role standards for staff working in NHS volunteer services. Staffing levels and grading of staff within volunteer services varies considerably between trusts. Greater recognition is needed of the workforce necessary to deliver strategic change in volunteering, along with provision of appropriate support, training and development for staff.

Specifications for effective NHS voluntary services could be developed, recognising that these comprise multi-faceted activity which impact on staff, patients and volunteers. (Such specifications could align with and build on the Investing in Volunteers Standard.) Standardisation of some aspects of volunteering could support transfer of knowledge, roles and even volunteers between trusts.

Currently there is no national data on the number of volunteers in NHS trusts, the roles they undertake nor their contribution in time or value. This lack of data makes it difficult to develop long term strategies to maximum potential.

Voluntary service managers highlighted the value of being able to connect and network with one another and appreciated opportunities for this and the good practice support provided by various national bodies.

Further attention to the costs of volunteering may enable better reflecting on what can be achieved in relation to the scale of investment.

Finally, the role of NHS volunteering within the context of place based systems of care needs consideration. Research found that volunteering within NHS tends to be quite siloed from the wider local ‘ecosystem’ of volunteering. By developing relationships within local communities, trusts can increase the net contribution of volunteers to the health of the communities they serve.


A substantial accompanying resource: Adding value through volunteering in NHS trusts describes the project in more detail, including evidence from the literature about the pattern and profile, motivations and barriers related to volunteering in general as well as practice within the NHS.

It suggests practical actions that volunteer managers can take to maximise the benefits of volunteering in relation the themes highlighted above: responding to the needs of individual volunteers, adding value for organisations and staff, for patients and carers, supporting inclusion and diversity, developing a strategic approach.


Whilst these reports reflect research in England and are written for an English audience, much will ring true for readers in Wales, although some context may be different.

Integration of health and social care is high on our agenda. To this end, understanding of the contribution of volunteers on a locality basis is vital.  ‘Siloed working’ must give way to a bigger vision with statutory and voluntary sector partners working together to support volunteering that achieves our national priorities for health and care and which creates opportunities for the widest diversity of individuals to volunteer.

Our Framework for volunteering in health and social care provides tools for assessment and development to support this vision.

For further information contact Fiona Liddell. Helpforce Cymru Manager fliddell@wcva.cymru.

Helpforce Cymru is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.

Visit the Helpforce Cymru webpage, or to receive email updates, sign up here and choose the option ‘health and care volunteering’.

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