Labour has thrown its support behind the Daily Mail’s campaign to recruit an army of NHS volunteers.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health and social care secretary, said he had ‘nothing but praise’ for those who gave something back to the health service.
The Labour frontbencher added: ‘Volunteering with your local NHS, whether for example at your local hospital or GP surgery, can be immensely rewarding work.
‘We know the NHS is always there for us and our families so I have nothing but praise for those who give something back by offering a bit of help and comfort to patients and some of the most vulnerable in society.’
The campaign has also been backed by NHS Providers, a trade association for hospital staff; the UK’s largest union Unison, and other healthcare leaders.
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said: ‘Volunteers provide valuable support to the NHS, from fundraising to keeping patients company.
‘It’s important, though, that they’re given appropriate tasks, not just used as substitutes for paid healthcare staff.’
Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, the nursing union, also voiced her support.
She said: ‘Volunteers make an outstanding contribution to the health service, making a difference to the lives of staff and patients.
‘The NHS must always be careful to use volunteers appropriately, especially when the frontline struggles with severe staff shortages.
While volunteers can never replace qualified staff or carry out any aspect of their professional work, there are many fulfilling ways in which volunteers can contribute.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the campaign was ‘a welcome initiative’ and everyone should consider signing up.
‘Volunteers have always played an essential role within the health service, and Helpforce is bringing fresh impetus to this vital area,’ he added.
‘There are a variety of roles across health and care which volunteers can choose, no matter how much time they can give.’
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which acts on behalf of trusts, said: ‘This is an excellent initiative with the potential to enhance so many lives.’
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, added: ‘This is a great idea from Helpforce and the Daily Mail which can bring a whole new band of volunteers to support NHS staff and make a real difference.’
The roles you could play if you volunteer
If you own a dog, play an instrument, ride a motorbike or simply have time on your hands, you could take some of the strain off frontline NHS staff.
By volunteering for a series of mostly unskilled jobs – if only for a few hours a month – you’d be making a huge difference.
Depending on your circumstances and what your local hospital needs, you may even be asked to carry out more than one duty.
The list of jobs waiting to be filled by volunteers includes:
Volunteer Rosie Perry, left, helps Sister Denise Hughes treat Alfie Williams, 13, at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey
- Helping patients and visitors upon their arrival to hospital and showing them where to go
- Working with heart-surgery patients in the gym by assisting them with the exercise equipment
- Going through old photos or listening to music to stimulate the memories of those with dementia
- Providing a library service by going between wards with a trolley of books
- Talking to anxious patients waiting in A&E, and providing tea and coffee
- Entertaining young patients on the children’s ward by playing games or, perhaps, dressing up as a superhero
- Offering support and comfort to bereaved families
- Making friends with patients who don’t have any visitors and offering to read to them
- Driving a mobility buggy to take patients with walking problems to other areas of the hospital
- Helping patients with their meals, particularly those with dementia who struggle to eat by themselves
- Running a singing group or a band to entertain patients on wards
- Tending the hospital garden
- Running errands or taking patients down to the canteen, hospital garden or the shop
- Fetching prescription medicines for patients who are waiting to go home so they can be discharged promptly
- Registering your dog or cat for training with the charity Pets As Therapy so you can take them into hospital to comfort patients
- Offering support to those having cancer treatment, particularly if you have been through cancer yourself
- Helping patients to settle in at home after they have been discharged – perhaps by checking that the heating is on and there is food in the fridge
- Befriending elderly former patients to ensure they are coping on their own
- Taking notes during consultations – with the consent of patients – to ensure they know exactly what their treatment will involve
- Assisting stroke patients who have communication difficulties, and helping them to build up their confidence
- Becoming a blood biker and delivering blood and breast milk to hospitals on your own motorcycle
- Building up a relationship with those who have mental-health conditions and offering them practical advice and emotional support
- Booking people into outpatient clinics and ensuring they know where they must go
- Encouraging patients to walk about on the ward to prevent muscle deterioration and bed sores
- Becoming a disc jockey on the hospital radio station
- Running the trolley service that provides patients on the wards with essentials and treats
- Asking patients to complete surveys at the end of their stay to find out what could be improved and whether there were any problems
- Becoming a massage therapist for patients or relatives, as long as you have a recognised massage qualification
- Providing patients with basic manicures or other beauty treatments
- Working in the hospital shop