‘Pivotal’ volunteers helping free-up NHS beds
A growing army of volunteers is being relied upon in hospitals and the community to take the pressure off the NHS.
Teams of unpaid workers are ensuring patients can be discharged when they are ready, rather than block beds due to a lack of support at home.
NHS volunteer Marilyn Ward met 60-year-old Andrew Arthurton at his flat two weeks ago after his hip replacement at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
He is now being supported by British Red Cross volunteer John Row.
Andrew said: "Marilyn was nice… She came in, turned the heat on, made me feel at home and then the Red Cross stepped in.
"John’s a lifesaver because he goes out and gets my shopping and that’s what I was most worried about.
"They have filled an enormous gap really from how I look at it."
Andrew was offered social care support but it did not include going to the shops, which was his biggest need.
Caroline Stevens, the volunteer services coordinator for the Settle-in team at the NNUH, described the role her team plays as "pivotal".
"If we weren’t able to do it they would maybe stay here for an extra night because they don't feel safe to go home for that evening."
Bed blocking is a significant issue in the NHS. It means new admissions have nowhere to go, causing pressure to build in the system.
Last year there was an average of 6200 cases a day in England where discharge was delayed even though patients were ready to leave, costing the NHS an estimated £173m.
And with a predicted £2.3bn shortfall in social care funding next year, the reliance on unpaid staff is only expected to grow.
The British Red Cross wants to see a joined-up approach to health and social care.
Chief executive Mike Adamson said: "When the system is strained, all too often we see older and vulnerable people reaching crisis in their homes before they receive support.
"This lack of early care intervention leads to unnecessary suffering and more serious medical needs for the patient, and places pressure on ambulance services, emergency departments and hospital beds."
The unprecedented pressure on the NHS has seen some hospitals drafting in volunteers recently to prop up understaffed emergency departments.
The Red Cross already works in around 15 accident and emergency departments to take pressure off nurses and doctors and the charity is calling for investment in non-clinical help in A&Es.
Another charity, HelpForce, wants to see better integration of volunteer staff into the NHS.
The organisation already has 78,000 unpaid workers in the health service and plans to double the number by 2021.
A Department of Heath spokesperson said: "Charities and social enterprises such as the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance have been doing amazing voluntary work in the NHS since its creation, and it is nothing new for them to support NHS staff – indeed they do so throughout the year, not just in the challenging winter months.
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"We know the NHS is extremely busy, which is why the recent budget allocated an extra £2.8bn over the next two years.
"We have also provided an additional £427m for this winter and an extra £2bn for social care over the next three years."