The Nuffield Trust recently published a key report, entitled Harnessing social action to support older people, to present the findings of their evaluation of seven social action projects funded by the Reducing Winter Pressures Fund.

The report included some valuable insights into the role that volunteers can play in supporting vulnerable older people and helping to improve the health and wellbeing of people living with chronic conditions.

In the foreword to the report, Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: “We have learned through this evaluation that small voluntary sector organisations are capable of gearing up and working with some of the most pressurised parts of the NHS.”

Mark Fisher, Executive Director of the Office for Civil Society, said: “As reflected in the NHS Five Year Forward View, community volunteering has a key role to play in the future of health and care services…we know from across our programmes supporting social action in health that frontline staff remain receptive and appreciative of the valuable contribution volunteers can and do make.”

The report also describes the specific impact that health volunteers have had on patients and the wider health and care system, as well as the volunteers themselves. For example:

“The additional time available to volunteers to spend with the older person, together with their good knowledge of local services, enabled a fuller understanding of the person’s needs.”

“The presence of a volunteer, without the time constraints of a health or care professional, reduced feelings of isolation (and) helped the older person connect with other services.”

“Volunteering was seen as a valuable experience for students or those pursuing a career in the health and social care sector.”

For further analysis of this report, read report author Ruth Thorlby’s blog. Ruth highlights the appreciation that NHS staff have shown for volunteers: “one of the most striking findings from our evaluation was the value placed on the reliability of the projects by NHS staff, who reported that it saved them time, as well as benefitting patients. That seems a pretty strong case for value.”