Volunteering is vital to the NHS

BBC Two documentary ‘The Big Hospital Experiment’ follows a group of 14 young volunteers aged 18 to 24 and places them into the NHS to see if they can make a difference to patients and staff alike. 

These aren’t your standard volunteers though. They’re thrown in at the deep end, doing tasks that nursing colleagues would usually do. From taking observations to bed bathing, these volunteers have to do it all.

It’s been an interesting watch and inspiring to see these young people flourish in their roles as clinical volunteers. The overall idea behind this project poses the question – could this be rolled out nationally across the National Health Service?

There are many demands on nurses and clinicians time with patients, especially in ward-based environments. Many want to spend more time than they do with their patients on an individual basis, but clinical needs and the rising demand of the service the NHS provides, prevents them from doing so.

Clinical volunteers, like the ones in the trial featured in the BBC Two documentary, could prove to play a pivotal role in a patient’s care. They might be the only person a patient spends the most time within any given day and they can often lend a fresh pair of ears to listen to a patient’s needs, worries or even general stories and chatter.

But volunteering in the NHS isn’t a new thing. Up and down the UK, there are thousands of volunteers giving up their free time to help our stretched NHS. From ward visitors who spend time with patients at their bedside to volunteers who help with administrative functions of their local hospitals and those that help provide sustenance (volunteer cafes such as the League of Friends), I can’t imagine an NHS without the wonderful work of volunteers – and I say that as a member of staff working for a large tertiary NHS Trust.

Being a volunteer myself, within hospital radio, working for a charity that represents hospital radio volunteers from across the country and working clinically in the NHS with my day job, I’m lucky enough to see how volunteers help from both sides of the agenda.

From a day-to-day clinical perspective, having a volunteer sit in an outpatient waiting room and chat with patients, inform them of delays and answer any non-medical queries they may have, certainly relieves pressure off clinical staff. Subsequently, by volunteering for the hospital radio station, I’ve seen first-hand what a difference we make when we visit patients at their bedside. We may not relieve their overall symptoms, but we often provide light relief, a sense of normality, to people who are often coping with so much stress and anxiety.

I really hope ‘The Big Hospital Experiment’ encourages everybody, both young and old, to consider volunteering in the NHS, because no matter what role you choose to volunteer in and no matter how big or small your involvement in that role, you will make a significant difference.