Health bosses call for more volunteers to help bolster NHS staff

Health bosses call for more volunteers to help bolster struggling NHS staff after first fall in patient satisfaction for six years

  • New shock report reveals the first fall in NHS patient satisfaction in six years 
  • Confidence in doctors and nurses fell for the first time since 2011, report shows
  • The NHS should increase number of volunteers, says Helpforce charity founder

Health officials last night called for more volunteers to rally around struggling NHS staff as a major report revealed the first fall in patient satisfaction in six years.

Experts said the report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – based on surveys of 76,000 patients who spent at least one night in English hospitals last year – marked a watershed moment for the NHS.

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, of charity Helpforce, said it helped make the case for the NHS to seriously increase the numbers of volunteers working in hospitals to help doctors and nurses. 

Patients said they waited longer to be admitted and a growing number said they did not receive a clear care plan on discharge. The CQC report showed just 48 per cent of patients rated their overall experience as nine or above out of 10 [File photo]

Writing on this page, he says there is a huge untapped commitment from the public to give back to the health service.

Some 34,000 Daily Mail readers agreed to volunteer for the NHS in a single month last December as part of the newspaper’s Hospital Helpforce campaign.

The CQC report showed just 48 per cent of patients rated their overall experience as nine or above out of 10 – a drop from 50 per cent in 2017 and the first decline since 2012. 

Confidence in doctors and nurses also fell for the first time since 2011. Patients said they waited longer to be admitted and a growing number said they did not receive a clear care plan on discharge.

Experts said the report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – based on surveys of 76,000 patients who spent at least one night in English hospitals last year – marked a watershed moment for the NHS [File photo]

Professor Ted Baker, of the CQC, said he was ‘disappointed to see the overall lack of progress’. 

He added: ‘There is a wider need for all parts of the health and care system to come together to support staff to manage the increased need for services and ensure the best quality of care for everyone.’

NHS England agreed that volunteers make a positive difference to patients. Dr Neil Churchill, director for patient experience, said: ‘Volunteers play a major role in maintaining the high level of patient satisfaction with the NHS, whether by sharing their experiences of care and ideas for improvement, or by providing support directly to patients complementing the care of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff. 

‘More volunteers, from more diverse backgrounds and wider age groups, will help local hospitals and support groups continue to give the best possible care for patients.’

Sara Gorton, of union Unison, said: ‘Volunteers help to make patients’ time in hospital more pleasant… Aside from extra funding, there is really only one solution to the extreme and growing pressures on the NHS and that’s to give it more staff.

‘Tackling the huge vacancies… should be the Government’s number one health priority.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘This survey is further evidence that in the vast majority of cases patients are happy with the care they received, but also that the NHS and its local partners need to continue to join up services around the needs of patients, as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.’

This is a fight for our national treasure: Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, founder of Helpforce, wants us to work together to help save our most beloved institution

By Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett

Founder of Helpforce

The British adore their national treasures – the wonderful actors, venerable TV presenters and flamboyant rock survivors. But there’s one institution we love above all, the true national treasure – our NHS.

Last December, the Daily Mail helped demonstrate this in a profound way with its superb campaign to double the number of hospital volunteers over the next three years as part of Helpforce, the organisation I founded to improve the NHS through volunteering.

The response of readers was phenomenal. In one month, 34,000 people pledged nearly two million hours of help and support for local wards. Of these, 20,000 have already been paired up with trusts.

The British adore their national treasures – the wonderful actors, venerable TV presenters and flamboyant rock survivors. But there’s one institution we love above all, the true national treasure – our NHS [File photo]

I don’t believe any other organisation in any country in the world could match that outpouring of loyalty and commitment.

And that is why I am confident we can do even more. Reading between the lines of the Care Quality Commission’s annual survey of patients in hospital – published this week – it appears we will have to.

The report makes for sobering reading. Patient satisfaction is down, lengthy delays plague the system, and there is never enough information and support for people who are being discharged. 

Working closely with leading trusts, voluntary sector partners and NHS England, Helpforce is determined to create a future where safe and reliable volunteering in the NHS is part of our everyday lives [File photo]

Professor Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals, says: ‘Staff are working incredibly hard but it is clear we have reached a point where this is not enough. The mounting pressure on the system is having a direct impact.’

These results are unsurprising. We know there are too many patients supported by too few staff, and staff are increasingly frustrated and exhausted. Volunteers can be a major part of the solution to this crisis. 

Through partnerships with NHS trusts, Helpforce is proving that unpaid, dedicated helpers, often bringing huge funds of experience, give staff more time to do the clinical work they’ve been trained for, and provide vital support for patients at a vulnerable time. 

It is often simple things that make a big difference. Volunteers at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust helped reduce ‘did not attend’ rates by around half, simply by sending out reminders for appointments.

We know there are too many patients supported by too few staff, and staff are increasingly frustrated and exhausted. Volunteers can be a major part of the solution to this crisis [File photo]

At West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, discharge volunteers saved staff 552 hours, equivalent to 24 work days over nine months. And at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, 93 per cent of staff said that volunteers saved them time to concentrate on their core roles.

The volunteers also benefit. Staff say the confidence of young helpers at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, to name just one example, has soared. All this proves the importance of investing in volunteer support and training.

Working closely with leading trusts, voluntary sector partners and NHS England, Helpforce is determined to create a future where safe and reliable volunteering in the NHS is part of our everyday lives. You can take part too, and be a national hero for our national treasure.

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