Volunteering is about much more than just logging hours at a hospital. It’s about how it benefits patients, medical professionals, and the volunteers themselves. Even assisting with the smallest of tasks can have a far-reaching positive impact. But how exactly are volunteers impacting the healthcare sector? Several new NHS volunteer programs are showing promise as a way of improving UK medical care, creating happier staff and healthier patients.

Helping Busy Staff

Many hospitals are short on staff, leaving medical professionals feeling overworked and underpaid. With a quarter of nursing students dropping out and fewer course applicants each year, many facilities don’t have enough nurses to cover all of their patients. Volunteers, however, can free up the valuable time of medical staff by taking care of more menial tasks.

In an analysis of the new Bleep volunteer service at the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, figures show that between March and June 2018, volunteers supported staff primarily by doing drug runs, each of which took staff members about 12 minutes to complete. 12 volunteers completed a total of about 225 runs, which saved staff around 45 hours over the course of three months. This gave staff more time to provide care and attention to their patients.

Enhancing the Patient Experience

Improved employee efficiency means not only happier workers but also more satisfied patients. By freeing up medical workers, Bleep employees helped to improve the quality of care. The program ended up having far-reaching impacts, from fewer medical complications to shorter hospital stays.

Volunteers can also directly engage with patients, making their stay more enjoyable. Not all patients have friends or family that can visit on a regular basis, leading to hours of isolation each day. This may have a profound psychological impact on patients, leading to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Loneliness can also manifest itself through physical symptoms such as a loss of appetite, insomnia, and even a weakened immune system. Volunteers can help to improve the mood and boost the energy of both child and adult patients by coming to visit on a regular basis and playing games, reading stories or simply conversing.

Volunteers can even help patients after they’ve been discharged from a medical facility. A volunteer team at West Suffolk NHS Trust, for example, has set up a transport and accompaniment service for patients returning home from the hospital. Volunteers help patients to safely get back home and get settled, staying for up to an hour to provide mobility assistance and limited care. This type of program helps to reduce the anxiety that many patients experience upon leaving the supervision of their doctor or nurse. Most patients reported lower anxiety scores after being assigned a volunteer through the West Suffolk NHS Trust program.

Additionally, accompaniment programs help to speed up the discharge process for patients by nearly four hours. This frees up rooms more quickly, allowing hospitals to see new patients in a timely manner and preventing staff from becoming overwhelmed. All parties involved benefit from a more streamlined and less stressful discharge process. What’s more, having help in the first few hours home can help to prevent accidents and injuries among frail patients who are not yet used to functioning on their own. Fewer patients are likely to need readmittance to the hospital during their recovery period.

Improving the Wellbeing of Volunteers

For many, volunteering is a way of life. It’s not only about helping others but also about finding inner fulfilment. Volunteering can help to counteract the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety while boosting self-esteem. It’s also an excellent way to build confidence, especially for those with poor social skills. With a sense of purpose, volunteers can make more sense of their day-to-day life and find their place in society.

Volunteering not only has the power to make us feel good about ourselves, but also to improve the lives of others. Thanks to short staffing in most NHS medical facilities, healthcare professionals are welcoming dedicated volunteers to help pick up the slack. UK residents should consider donating some of their free time to their local hospital. After all, a better healthcare system is beneficial to everybody.