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Transforming NHS volunteering

By Harry Day

12 December 2018
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We launched Helpforce to the public via an exclusive, in depth interview with David Brindle in the Guardian on 6 December 2017. On 1 December 2018, the Daily Mail filled eight pages to encourage people to pledge time to support the NHS, yielding an incredible response from people of all ages across the country – and the partnership is continuing to the end of the year.

How did a seemingly radical new idea bring about such rapid and supported change? Helpforce provides an exciting example of the critical ingredients that are needed to turn ideas into action:

  • Real need – the case for change in the NHS has been made from every perspective and there is a drive for new systems and solutions to fit today’s needs. Helpforce has been able to address a ‘macro health’ need but also a very individual one – the fact that many people attending hospital do not have a family support structure to help them and a volunteer can make a critical difference to their wellbeing and overall outcomes.
  • Proven solution – volunteering in the NHS is not new and there is existing evidence to show its benefits – however, it is localised and inconsistently applied with few NHS Trusts getting full advantage. Helpforce’s approach has been to join-the-dots; test and scale; encourage and amplify. By building in measurement and evaluation from the start, the approach is rooted in reality and learning at every stage.
  • Peers and partners – too much change gets stuck as organisations seek to stand apart and ‘do it themselves’, alienating those who are already working in the same space. Partnership sits at the heart of Helpforce’s approach, bringing individual practitioners, policy makers and commissioners together to build from experience and maximise the existing infrastructure so the benefits of volunteering can be realised as quickly as possible.
  • Collaborative communications – Helpforce has been building for two years, with communications focused on uniting the peers and partners to establish pilot programmes and understand both opportunities and challenges ahead. Trusted relationships with NHS leaders at national and Trust level, alongside key volunteering charities and healthcare unions are critical to success and remain the priority. Taking the time to build that trust means the Christmas campaign was built from strong foundations.
  • Brave vision – new ideas only happen when someone follows the questions of ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’ with the commitment to turn it into reality. Helpforce founder Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett recognised the opportunity to build volunteering within the NHS and had the entrepreneurialism to see through the barriers and make it happen.  Change needs a champion, champions need talented teams and they all need to be united in the vision of what can be achieved.

Helpforce is just getting started. As an additional 20,000 volunteers are set to team up with NHS teams in 2019, the next stage of action will have begun. We’re looking forward to the year ahead.

To find out more about signing up to be a volunteer in the NHS in 2019, please visit