At Volunteering Matters we were delighted to read this blog post by our colleague David Buck, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Inequalities at The Kings Fund, on the value and potential of health volunteering earlier this week.

As David points out, almost three million of us regularly volunteer for health, welfare and disability organisations, which matches the size of the health and social care workforce as a whole. While it’s clear that NHS England’s Five Year Forward View’s vision of ‘a new relationship with patients and communities’ can help to galvanise and provide momentum for the idea of health as a social movement, we must also recognise the enormous potential of health volunteers and provide them with the support they need to maximise their impact.

David’s findings, based on analysis of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey on volunteering in health are very encouraging. Half of the respondents who weren’t currently health volunteers would consider volunteering for local health and care services. This means that 24 million British adults would at least consider volunteering for health. We must continue to develop ways to engage with this community and mine its untapped potential.

Volunteering Matters is committed to promoting and raising awareness of the proven benefits of volunteering, in terms of enhanced health and well-being for the individual, and stronger, more inclusive communities for society as a whole. These benefits are felt by both the beneficiaries and volunteers: we regularly receive feedback from our volunteers about their life-changing experiences on our volunteer programmes.

In order for health volunteering to deliver the best possible outcomes for patients, to help staff deliver top quality person-centred care, volunteer programmes must be fully joined up with and embraced by health and care services. As we mentioned in our Volunteers’ Week blog post last year, this requires ‘rebooting’ the relationship between statutory services and the voluntary sector.

We also need to address barriers to volunteering. The survey results revealed that a large number of people could not volunteer due to illness or disability. Developing flexible volunteering opportunities in health and care will be key to addressing these barriers, as will ensuring that volunteers are fully supported by their volunteer managers.

On the whole, the outlook is positive. We have a huge pool of existing volunteers and we must truly celebrate the energy and commitment that they bring to health and care, and their crucial role in delivering excellent care for patients. The next step will be engaging with those who would consider volunteering and presenting them with relevant and effective volunteering opportunities. We also need to find ways to engage hard to reach citizens, such as those will illness or disability, and offering them exciting opportunities to get involved with their local communities.

The British Social Attitudes Survey findings confirm what the volunteer-involving sector has known for many years: there are significant numbers of people in our society who want to give their time for the benefit of others. Our challenge is to convert this potential into action and to equip our health and care system, and the volunteer-involving sector, with the tools to make it happen.