Spotlight

From volunteer to career: an innovative way of joining the NHS workforce

Volunteers in Somerset’s NHS are being offered specialist training to help them forge a career in the health service.

It is all part of a new Volunteer to Career initiative, designed by clinicians, that aims to encourage volunteers to take up professional NHS roles and equip them with the appropriate tools and knowledge to thrive.

The initiative, run by Helpforce and funded by Health Education England, is also being run at two NHS trusts in London – Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

Volunteer to Career is one way to help address the huge workforce challenges facing the NHS. There are currently an estimated 110,000 vacancies across the NHS.

The focus of the initiative in Somerset is on the NHS trust’s neighbourhood teams, which are made up of various community services and primary care (GP practices).

The team of volunteers will provide support across a range of services, including clinical administration, helping address patient isolation and loneliness, reassuring patients before surgery, taking calls, offering family liaison and supporting the patient discharge process.

Since the start of the pandemic, volunteers have mobilised across the UK to provide vital complementary support to hard-working professional staff.

Around 71,000 people took paid roles and thousands more volunteered to help with the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme.

And 11,000 of those who volunteered to administer jabs have since decided to take up full-time jobs within the NHS – demonstrating the value of these opportunities.

Isobel Clements, director of people services at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and Yeovil Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Volunteers play such an important role in the NHS and we are excited to be able to give them something back by offering a pathway to a clinical career in the NHS, while giving them access to a creative training package.

“With staffing pressures in the NHS more challenging than ever we have needed to look at how we recruit and develop our workforce differently and this sort of initiative, along with nursing degrees apprenticeships and work experience, will hopefully encourage more people to consider working for the NHS.

“Traditionally our almost 1,000 strong team of volunteers have taken up roles such as ‘meet and greet’ and peer support at our hospitals, but this initiative will target young people in the latter years of secondary school and sixth form who are starting to think about their future career.

“One of the new areas we are focusing as part of the initiative is providing volunteering opportunities outside of the hospital environment, such as in our communities services and GP practices.”

Maeve Hully, director of volunteering at Helpforce said: "Volunteer to Career is an important way to address one of the biggest challenges the NHS is facing: a cycle of shortages and increased pressures on staff, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“It has been such an exciting collaboration between clinicians, volunteers, volunteer service managers and patients. Watching clinical teams embrace volunteering so positively has ensured that the majority of volunteers who participated in the project have already gone on to careers in healthcare – a phenomenal result in a short period of time.

“Volunteer to Career delivers dual benefits, supporting stretched NHS services, whilst also encouraging more people to consider careers in health at a time when there is a critical need.”

Carly Schoepp, programme manager at Health Education England’s national volunteering unit, said:

"Many people volunteer in the NHS for different reasons and some have aspirations to eventually work in the health and care. It’s vital that we think more about how we help those volunteers into their chosen career, to do so is good for the individual, for services and for patients.

“We’ve commissioned Helpforce because we’ve seen the work they have done with leaders in trusts to set up pathways which help volunteers make the transition into paid work. I’m really pleased that we can take this work to more organisation so they, their staff and patients can benefit.”

If you are interested in getting involved in the Volunteer to Career programme, go to the Spark a Change website or contact Gillian Cook on Gillian.Cook@SomersetFT.nhs.uk or Jessica.Fewings@SomersetFT.nhs.uk.