The challenge that Local Healthwatch faces is how to do this in a way that makes a system level impact. In this they are no different to LINKs and face the same pitfalls – the main one being to focus almost exclusively on recruiting their own volunteers.
I think that the LINK model put a great deal of emphasis on three types of voluntary engagement these were:
- A board of volunteers
- A team of volunteers providing services – information, office, enter and view etc
- A wider membership – who were comparatively inactive.
I do know that some local LINKs also engaged and worked with other organisations who also recruited and worked with volunteers and also with user led groups (patient and carer groups) which were run by people with a specific condition.
My impression was that for many local LINKs their energies focussed on supporting a comparatively small and dedicated group of volunteers – which took their energy away from wider system level ambition.
For Healthwatch to be powerful it has to locate itself within a wider context of volunteering at place level and its actions then stem from this understanding of context.
I have been messing around thinking about how to describe this context and have come up with this strange looking diagram – “the knickerbocker glory of volunteering ”.
The diagram suggests that there are 3 ways of considering volunteering with regard to Healthwatch which are connected and have different degrees of importance.
- Healthwatch Volunteers;
- Health System ‘Voice’ Volunteers – where giving opinions or advocating is a key part of the role;
- General volunteers in the Health System who are providing services of different sorts – such as WRVS or people who provide luncheon clubs.
Running parallel to this ‘Health System’ strand are similar groups of volunteers who are also concerned with voice – such as school governers, welfare rights volunteers, trade unionists etc and a similar much wider group of volunteers involved in everything from culture through to environment. This group is of course equally important because health is not just about health and social care. The Social Determinants are equally important and these voice volunteers will be interested in a health and wellbeing too.
Here is a table showing the sort of volunteers that I am talking about (N.B. PLACE assessors are people who use a health service including current patients, their family and visitors, carers, patient advocates or NHS patient council members. PLACE stands for Patient Led Assessments of the Care Environment) Bear in mind that the volunteer roles in the table below are just examples – there are many more!
Obviously, its not possible to be connected directly with all of the volunteers described here. My argument is that a powerful Healthwatch will as a minimum have a strategic approach to being connected with all organisations who recruit, support and train ‘Voice Volunteers’ whether they are in the Health System or not.
What do you think?