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We need to be much better at understanding the contribution that volunteers make to health and wellbeing.

October 1, 2014


 The Department of Health’s Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund have published a piece of work that I completed with two colleagues (Sue Cook and Jennie Chapman). We have produced a guide on sustainability for projects that support health and wellbeing through services using volunteers.

The 6 voluntary organisations we spoke to worked with a wide range of people.

Care Network in Blackburn with Darwen – support isolated elderly people through providing an escorted shopping service and through that social contact.

Hull and East Yorkshire MIND – volunteers supporting mainstream mental health services provided by MIND

Opening Doors in Norwich – a self advocacy organisation for people with a learning disability supporting people access health and care services

Unite Carers in Mid-Devon – volunteers supporting carers of people with Alzheimers

Stroke Action – volunteers working as stroke ambassadors

Fast 4WD in Blackburn with Darwen – Recovery support volunteers support current service users

If you would like to get a feeling for what these organisations and their volunteers do – listen to them directly – there are good short videos all about 7 or 8 minutes long, here are links to each video  Stroke Action in Enfield Unite Carers in TivertonFast 4WD, Opening Doors, Care Network and Hull and East Riding MIND – watch them all!

Although at different stages of development these organisations had all been successful in providing services of consistently good quality and in some cases one that is a key part of a health and social care pathway (for example Fast 4WD and Stroke Action).

One of the issues that emerged from this work was that despite the fact that these projects had been funded by the Department of Health – the area where they really struggled to get funding was from the NHS. Often, the closest they seemed to come to getting ‘health’ funding was through the Public Health budgets – that are of course now part of local government.

There are of course a number of reasons for this – some of which are explained in the videos themselves. I want to touch on two.

Clinical Medicine is not the whole cure

The NHS still defaults too readily to thinking that heath interventions end when someone leaves the clinic – be that a hospital or a GP. In the past this was excused by the distinction being made between health and social care provision (some will remember the debate about when was a bath a social care one and when was it a health one!). I think increasingly it is understood that the dividing line is not sharp – particularly when we take into account mental health and wellbeing – as some of the stories on the videos eloquently describe.

I would like to think that the repeated statements of the need for greater parity for mental health and proposals for greater integration of health and social care might help resolve this artificial divide..

Local Commissioning

The other thing that was striking about the work was the lack of coherent commissioning strategies that set out the ambition an area has for what sort of voluntary sector provision and what level of volunteering it might like to see there.

Imagine having a commissioning strategy that described the local priorities and then ignored the local hospital or GPs? Well this is what it often feels like for the voluntary and community sector.

It is still the case that too many commissioning strategies fail to recognise the importance of the voluntary sector and volunteering and don’t consider what needs to be done to enable this sector to flourish and grow.

So, all credit to the 6 fantastic organisations (there are of course many more out there) who contributed their experience and wisdom to the videos and the briefing we have produced.

Sue, Jennie and I were inspired by the organisations and volunteers we met – the struggle continues!

What do you think?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Edwin Aminer permalink
    October 4, 2014 20:10

    This is a good work done. Sustainability is a long time challange to many initiative which had been started to save situation. You find them going for a short time then die with most of them not resuscitated again. The situation then leaves those who were beneficiaries going even below the level situation they were in.

    I find the outcome of your work giving us some base to work from.


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