Reinforcing NHS services when patients need them most

At this highly pressurised time, volunteers provide valuable support to reduce demand on NHS services in England. The Royal Voluntary Service explain the role of the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme in helping the health service during the current crisis

When the UK was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS faced many complex challenges. A key concern for the NHS in England was ensuring our services did not become overwhelmed – that patients continued to receive essential care and we protected the wellbeing and resilience of our workforce.  

As the pressure on services began to mount, it was essential that those in need remained able to access support. The implementation of a scheme that could not only support vulnerable patients, but also alleviate demand on staff teams was incredibly important. The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme was launched in March this year; it was set up by NHS England and Royal Voluntary Service, working in partnership with GoodSAM to develop flexible, app-based volunteering.

The service enables those who need to self-isolate, are housebound, or choose to avoid busy public spaces during the pandemic, to do so without having to worry about getting access to vital supplies.  It also provides volunteer drivers to take patients to and from medical appointments where PPE can be provided by the host organisation. A further service available from the scheme to NHS organisations is to deliver goods between sites, reducing pressure on staff teams and the likely resulting costs of filling essential roles with bank or agency staff.

As well as providing support on a case-by-case basis, a number of NHS trusts have found the service can be utilised to drive NHS efficiencies. For example, at Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, Administrator Claire Thomas was redeployed to support the EBBI (Evesham, Bredon, Broadway, Inkberrow) multi-disciplinary Neighbourhood Team as part of the Trust’s response to Covid-19. This team includes 22 district nurses who work alongside a team of health and social care professionals within the town of Evesham and surrounding area.

Claire Thomas said: “The nurses were really grateful that the NHS Volunteer Responders were able to support them at a time when their team was under extra pressure due to the coronavirus outbreak. The service was brilliant, and the volunteers were incredibly helpful. They were able to support us while working remotely, with some of them fitting volunteering around their existing employment.

“My advice to other NHS organisations would be to look closely at your services and see where the volunteers could support you. The service is straight forward to access and easy to use - all you need to do is complete a simple online form. I was fully reassured that the arrangements met all data protection requirements, and that all volunteers had signed the relevant declaration as part of their sign-up procedure, plus the service is assured by NHS England. Using the ‘volunteer goods drivers’ also highlighted a way which our Neighbourhood Teams could adapt their way of working in the future.”

Usually nurses collect dressings for each home visit from the dispensing GP or community pharmacist, which not only adds to nurses’ travelling time, but they may also need to travel further to pass them on to another team member if a visit has to be reallocated.

Claire coordinated all prescribed items, keeping a shared spreadsheet so nurses could see when the dressings had been delivered. She then booked the NHS Volunteer Responders to make the deliveries as required. The scheme was trialled with half of the team and just ten weeks after launch, NHS Volunteer Responders had made 300 deliveries, saving an estimated 150 hours of clinical time.

During this period when the demand on nurses and other healthcare workers is often at maximum capacity the support of the volunteers can help trusts to avoid additional costs, or the need to reallocate people from other equally hard-pressed services.

The support of volunteers, through NHS Volunteer Responders, is reinforcing NHS services when our patients need them most. It is an invaluable resource and I encourage trusts which have not yet used the scheme to consider where it can provide support over the coming months. The scheme will be in place until at least December 2020.

Nurse testimonials
“It was great to arrive at a patient’s house and find everything I needed there and ready for me. It enabled me to carryout patient care with ease.” Esther Newman, District Nurse

“The involvement of volunteers has allowed me to focus on delivering outstanding patient care and I no longer have to worry about collecting prescriptions during my already busy day.” Jake Corbett, Senior Community Nurse

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