You may have recently seen the Government plan to extend the NHS Volunteer Responders programme into social care. In this week’s blog post, I look at some of the positives and negatives of this new scheme.
The positives of the scheme
The biggest positive that I can see from this announcement – and having experience of using volunteers in my care services – is that it will open the door to more people who can help. We all know there is an ever-growing demand of unmet needs, and volunteers can help with some of the gaps. The additional resource will bring a new skill set into our teams, including people with lifetime experiences and talents that will enhance our teams and benefit the people using care services.
The negatives of the scheme
Unfortunately, whilst I appreciate the scheme, I don’t think it’s the answer social care needed. What social care actually needs is a long-term plan for reforming the sector, which includes adequate funding and tools, to ensure the needs of people using care services today and into the future.
The impact of the scheme
When I heard the news and read the government’s announcement, I did feel sorry for the relatives of those in care services that are still unable to get access or cuddle their loved ones due to the pandemic. It must have been a kick in the teeth for those relatives who would give their left hand to be in the same position. If you are a service looking at employing volunteers, you should also consider relatives.
Volunteers, whilst they come with a range of new skills and talents, will not be able to do everything that our care teams do. This is one thing that has been mentioned a number of times since the scheme was announced, but we need to focus on the positives of what they will be able to do, such as:
- Being there as a companion
- Being able to provide emotional support
- Being an ear for someone
- Being able to engage people in meaningful conversations
- Being able to assist with activities and events, and free up time for paid staff to do other parts of their role.
Whilst I appreciate some may argue that paid staff may resist performing hands-on tasks, I really do not see this being an issue. Instead, I see the potential for volunteers taking on a huge chunk of someone's workload to help.
Getting the best out of having volunteers in your care service
I think it is important that we think outside of the box, in terms of what volunteers can achieve. I reflect over my experiences of volunteers in the care services I have worked in, and they maintained the garden, did other maintenance tasks, taught knitting, helped with the cooking and cleaning, and supported people to access appointments.
Based on my experiences of employing volunteers, here are some things to consider:
- Recruitment – Whilst the background checks for volunteers will remain the same, you will need to develop a separate set of interview questions, job description and recruitment adverts.
- Training – Volunteers will be no different to your paid employees, you will need to make sure that they are trained. They may not need the full amount of training, but you should reflect on the needs of the business and the people they will be supporting, to ascertain the level of training they will require. I have found it useful to allocate a ‘buddy’ so that your volunteers know who to go to.
- Availability – Where possible you should establish the volunteer’s availability so you can schedule them into the rota and planned activities for the day. You may find that having a volunteer will allow you to relieve some of your paid staff onto other shifts that need covering.
- Insurance – You will want to make sure with your insurer that volunteers in your care service are covered, and what you are covered against.
- Costs – There are costs involved in taking on volunteers with marketing, recruitment, travel, and training costs being the top four. You need to make sure you have the budget allocated to ensure this is a financially viable option for your service. Whilst there will be an upfront cost, you will make savings in the longer term as you will not have to pay them for the work done.
- Consistency – We talk about the importance of continuity of staff, and this is no different. The people you support deserve consistency and familiarity, so ensure you factor this into any decisions being made to introduce volunteers
- Accountabilities – Make sure you have robust policies and procedures and that volunteers are aware of what you expect from them, so that you can hold them to account as you would with any other member of your team.
Many volunteers face burnout due to the emotional and physical demand of their role. You need to be considering supervisions and line management responsibilities and like with your current team, you need to value and support them so that they feel recognised and valued. Volunteers can bring a wide range of benefits to your team and organisation, so don’t rule it out before you have tried it.