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Volunteering – implications for the health and social care workforce strategy

Published: 20/08/19 | Categories: Volunteering, Author: Fiona Liddell

A long-term workforce strategy for health and social care in Wales has been published by Social Care Wales and Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) for consultation. Fiona Liddell looks at the potential for volunteering and the extent to which the draft strategy supports this.

The draft strategy is a readable 22 pages which you can find in full here .

The main themes

The broad intentions of the strategy are made clear: enabling health and social care systems to work together, helping people to live well in their communities and providing care closer to or at home.

These are based on the quadruple aim, as expressed in A Healthier Wales, of preventing ill health, improving experience of patients and service users, increasing value through innovation, improvement and best practice and enriching the capability and engagement of the workforce.

Seven key themes emerged from preliminary consultations and are presented in this draft strategy: valuing and retaining our workforce, seamless working, digital, attraction and recruitment, education and learning leadership and workforce shape.

Where is volunteering mentioned?

The introduction asserts the need for us to work together and to recognise the range of people who have a role to play in health and social care, including those employed by statutory, private and third sector organisations and including also volunteers and carers.

The big ambition is stated like this (page 5) ‘By 2030 we will have the right number of engaged, motivated and valued people including volunteers and carers, able to deliver flexible and agile health and social care that meets the needs of the people of Wales.’

Volunteers are expressly mentioned subsequently, in relation to three of the seven key themes:

Seamless working: the vision includes ‘Supporting regional partnership working to develop and deliver new models of care and support the workforce changes required to deliver these new models’ and ‘Supporting education and development of skills across the whole workforce, and invest in development of everyone, including carers and volunteers’.

So, volunteers may have a role in ‘new models of care’, although this is not spelt out. The second point links to education and learning, below.

Education and learning: the vision is ‘To provide excellent learning and education opportunities throughout all stages of the workforce’s career, including undergraduate students, apprentices, volunteers and carers’. Potential actions are suggested to widen access, develop common competence requirements and to recognise the experience and skills acquired through non-traditional routes.

So, volunteers are seen in the strategy as potential members of a future workforce and a target for education and learning, with that in mind.

Finally, in relation to workforce shape, the need to recognise the contribution and expertise of volunteers and carers is highlighted. A potential action is suggested to ‘Commission a programme of work to quantify the shape and contribution of volunteers and carers in health and social care’.

So, the strategy acknowledges the need for better evidence about the impact of volunteers. We can build upon existing published evidence, such as Can volunteering help to create better health and care (May 2017).

Influencing the agenda

Responses to the consultation document are invited by Social Care Wales and HEIW by mid-September. WCVA is co-ordinating a response of behalf of the third sector. Here’s are my initial thoughts, as a starter for ten. I would love to hear your views.

Volunteers and carers are mentioned together each time, recognising that they are both an important adjunct to the workforce. But there is a fundamental difference in the ways in which carers and volunteers contribute to strategic outcomes (and this might be a topic for another blog!).

As regards volunteering, there is certainly scope to plan, manage and develop this proactively, in accordance with the needs and ethos of an organisation. People volunteer for a variety of different reasons; amongst them is the desire to contribute something useful and to make a positive difference. A clear vision for where and how volunteering contributes to the achievement of an organisation’s aims is likely to lead to more rewarding experiences of volunteering. This has implications for workforce development – which are in danger, in the draft strategy, of being overlooked.

There is an understandable ambivalence about the place of volunteering within a workforce strategy. Volunteers are not the mainstream workforce and core service delivery should not be dependant on the involvement of volunteers, as our newly revised Draft Charter for clarifying and strengthening relations between paid workers and volunteers makes clear. Volunteering can provide additional capacity, however, that helps to improve patient and service user experience, and the delivery of more holistic, integrated and citizen centred services.

My main point, in response to the consultation, is that a workforce strategy needs to plan for the leadership of volunteering and the development of staff, in order to establish an environment where volunteering can flourish and its impact on services be maximised.

Why? Firstly, volunteering needs to be strategically planned and resourced. It involves regular discussions with senior and operational staff, with trade unions and with volunteers to determine and develop appropriate volunteer roles. It involves influencing the culture of an organisation to ensure that everyone understands the role of volunteers, has realistic expectations and can support them appropriately. It involves developing and maintaining relationships with external volunteer involving organisations, entering into appropriate joint working agreements to ensure quality and continuity of care, using to the full the community resources that are available. Without volunteering leadership ‘from the top’, volunteering will not impact on the planning, design and development of health and care.

Secondly, leadership is needed to develop quality assurance processes and procedures for volunteer involvement (see Investing in Volunteers); to maximise their contribution and engagement, to ensure patient and volunteers’ safety and to make volunteering accessible to a diverse range of people. Dedicated volunteering systems are essential for ensuring a professional service whilst at the same time respecting the needs and motivations of volunteers. There are untold benefits from getting this right, including harnessing fresh ideas and energies and the cultivation of interest in careers in health and care.

Thirdly, we need volunteering leadership to develop habits and methods of evaluation that will give credible evidence, not only of the difference made by volunteers, but also a better understanding of

the activities and interventions that make the most significant difference to patients, service users and staff. Getting this right will support the creative development of new and more patient -centred models of working, including partnership working.

The development of volunteering needs to be strategically planned separate from, although related to, the development of the paid workforce. Then we will be on the right path to realising the potential of volunteering in delivering health and social care.

If you would like to respond to this article or contribute your views on the consultation document to be included in WCVA’s response, please contact Fiona by email by 6 September.


Fiona Liddell is Helpforce Cymru Manager.

Helpforce, 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 services.