‘The news that over half a million (and counting) people have signed up to volunteer to support the NHS and social care system has been widely welcomed, and rightly so. In these frightening times, volunteering gives us all a way to turn our anxiety into something practical and helpful. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has welcomed this outpouring of generosity, stating that these volunteers will play an “absolutely crucial” role in the UK’s fight against COVID-19 and offering a “special thank you to everyone who has now volunteered to help the NHS“.
‘In partnership with the charity Helpforce, I have spent the last 18 months researching the experiences of NHS volunteers. We found that people feel a huge allegiance, and often a huge debt of gratitude, to the NHS and are happy to support it in any way they can. The half a million more volunteers who have signed up in two days shows this to be true.
‘We have also found that, despite the best efforts of NHS staff, the health and social care system often lacks the resources to engage large numbers of volunteers. With 500,000 new, highly motivated volunteers, even more resources will be needed. It is a big risk to motivate volunteers with an urgent call to action without having a clear and speedy plan of how to organise and utilise them.
‘The NHS’ Medical Director Stephen Powis may have inadvertently hit the nail on the head when he said that the health service has been “bowled over” by the altruism of half a million strangers. Volunteer management – even when it is very light touch – is labour intensive and matching volunteers to roles isn’t always generally overnight. The NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app are all going to need to devote significant resource and attention to ensure this tide of support is well utilised.’
Dr Eddy Hogg is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Director of Studies for Social Policy and Health and Social Care. His research looks at volunteering, charitable giving and public attitudes to the voluntary sector. His research interests include volunteering across the lifecourse, on volunteering and charitable giving for public services, on youth volunteering, on the value of charity involvement in supporting young people, on attitudes towards charity regulation in England and Wales and, on charity engagement with the Fundraising Regulator.
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