Celebrating volunteering in the NHS

Happy birthday to the NHS!

Yesterday, the UK’s National Health Service marked it’s 70th birthday. Seventy years of providing free healthcare to the British public. The NHS is a national treasure and it was wonderful to see this milestone birthday celebrated.

One of the fun facts I learnt in the run up to the 70th birthday celebrations is that the NHS employs more than 1.5 million people. Only four other institutions employ more – McDonald’s, Walmart, the U.S. Defence Department and the People’s Liberation Army of China.

Of course, paid staff are just part of the story. Almost 80,000 people volunteer in hospitals, a number that some are keen to double by 2021. It has, therefore, been wonderful to see recognition and celebration of the role of volunteering in the NHS as part of the birthday celebrations.

Recognition like that given by the chief executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust who, in an article in March 2018, encouraged other NHS leaders to unlock the potential of volunteers.

“Well-managed and properly trained volunteers can help improve patient experiences and support staff, as well as contribute to a more connected community. The potential to maximise volunteering in the NHS is huge. It’s up to all of us to make this happen.”

Then there is volunteering that can help the NHS in ways outside of traditional ‘volunteers in hospitals’ roles and approaches. For example, last year I highlighted the importance of social prescribing and the contribution it can make to reducing demands placed on NHS services. This remains an under-valued approach that could significantly ease pressure on health services across the country.

Then there are organisations like Altogether Better who have spent a decade using volunteering to explore approaches that increase the efficiency of health services, improve the health of individuals and strengthen local communities.

And my personal favourite is the story of Scott Bateman MBE, a former RAF and now commercial pilot, whose father’s death inspired the creation of the UK’s original First Responder service. Scott’s story highlights the innovations that can come from the different perspectives volunteers can offer. Innovations that sometimes face resistance from those already working in a system, such the union representative in 1997 who Scott quotes in his story:

“What does a Pilot know about Ambulance Services, the plan is a nonsense”

So much nonsense that today first responders are a well established and essential part of NHS emergency care provision throughout the country. An innovation born of, and delivered through, volunteers.

So happy birthday NHS. And thank you to the thousands of people who volunteer in, with and through the health service. The care, support and creativity you provide is an essential part of keeping our national healthy and saving lives every day.

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