It is promising to see recognition within the NHS Long Term Plan that volunteers contribute to high quality care, and that there are a myriad of ways in which they make this contribution. Volunteers within the NHS have a significant role in promoting improved health outcomes within the community, and providing support in out of hospital and hospital environments. There is even more that volunteers can achieve within the NHS, and with the publication of the Long Term Plan, the NHS should now renew its focus on what roles volunteers undertake, and broaden its approach when creating volunteer roles.

The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) takes the view that the number of volunteers is less important than the quality of the volunteering experience. Numbers of active volunteers is an important marker for any organisation, but consideration should be given to the outcomes volunteers achieve for the NHS, and the positive personal impact of volunteering on health, wellbeing and resilience.

It’s key to recognise that volunteering is not the core activity of the NHS; it exists to support the core service functions, and alongside the capacity issues many NHS organisations face, creating the right environment for volunteering to flourish can be challenging. The volunteer / organisational relationship is very distinct from the employee / employer relationship and requires a particular skill set. The volunteer manager’s required skill set is the same regardless of sector. Unfortunately many NHS organisations work in isolation developing volunteer-focussed services, and successful collaborations would benefit many more patients, across age groups and social demographics.

For this reason volunteer managers in the NHS could learn from successful programmes run by charities. For over a decade, the Association of Volunteer Managers has been committed to sharing knowledge with volunteer managers regardless of sector. Learning events are matched to current climates, and our 2019 line up of events will include more introspection of public service – encouraging public sector volunteer managers, volunteer managers who support publicly funded projects and other volunteer managers to learn together. We’re also creating events to examine the triangle of support between volunteers, service users and carers.

Our membership is as diverse as volunteering itself, and includes public, third and private sector organisations. As we reflect on the impact of the Long Term Plan, NHS organisations with volunteers or those who would like to start programmes should consider joining well-established support networks such as the Association of Volunteer Managers to gain from the experiences of our members.