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Revealed: NHS plans to recruit thousands of volunteers as it faces winter crisis | NHS

Health officials are drawing up plans to recruit thousands more volunteers to help the NHS deal with ambulance delays and hospital pressures this winter, according to a leaked document that reveals the scale of the crisis in the healthcare system. British health.

NHS performance is ‘very likely to deteriorate further’ due to increased winter demand and industrial action, reveals the briefing from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) seen by the Observer.

He also warns of a potential increase in hospital admissions due to cold weather and soaring costs of living. “If some people, especially the elderly, respond to rising fuel prices by turning down or turning off the heating, this may lead to increased admissions for heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses,” the document states.

The 31-page briefing was leaked as the NHS faces some of the biggest strikes in its history and record waiting lists. More than 7.2million people in England are waiting for routine treatment, the highest number since records began.

Last month, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital after the decision was made to admit them, 255% more than in 2021 and 3,303% more than in November 2019.

Among the measures ministers are considering to ‘build resilience’ in the NHS are the expansion of the volunteer recruitment drive, to bolster ambulance teams and provide support in hospitals and the community.

In August, the NHS launched a four-year, £30million contract with St John Ambulance to provide ‘surge capacity’ to 10 ambulance trusts and act as the official auxiliary service for England. Under the agreement – ​​the first of its kind – the charity is providing a minimum of 5,000 hours of support per month via teams capable of responding to the most urgent and life-threatening 999 calls.

The leaked government document says plans to boost the volunteer workforce “will build on the approach recently agreed with St. John Ambulance”. He adds: “We will build on the volunteers who already support the NHS and extend it further within local communities.”

Thousands of volunteers have been recruited during the pandemic to help deliver the vaccination programme, and volunteers are already providing behind-the-scenes support in other parts of the NHS.

However, the document lays out plans for a concerted effort to broaden and expand their role at a time when basic services are struggling to find staff and are under increased pressure.

Volunteer roles in the NHS range from delivering medicine and driving ambulances to preparing beds for newly admitted patients and ‘general ward housekeeping’.

An advert, posted by an NHS trust in the north of England, says it is looking for ‘crisis and emergency care volunteers’ and people to volunteer at its 33-bed ward for cardiology patients and the elderly. There, volunteer duties include “ensuring patients stay hydrated, ensuring hygiene needs are met…and basic clerical duties, including answering the phone,” says he.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, which represents acute care, ambulances and other NHS trusts, said that while volunteers have “always played a key role in the NHS” beyond the services of base, there is “simply no substitute for a properly staffed workforce”. ”.

“There are currently 133,000 vacancies in the NHS. This needs to be urgently addressed by the government in the form of a fully funded long-term manpower plan,” she said.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘What we need is a skilled and trained workforce to try and deal with the problems we have now. It’s not just about being on the ground – it’s also about staff capacity and training. “There is an ongoing crisis in emergency care caused by a massive mismatch between supply and demand. There is too much work for our hospitals and our ambulance services, and this results in long lines of ambulances in front of the emergency departments, but it is a mark of stress for the whole system. Hospitals are absolutely full right now.

Details of the plan to expand the volunteer workforce are detailed in internal winter readiness documents drafted by officials for ministers in October.

The briefing paints a bleak picture of the challenges facing the NHS and its ability to deal with them, stating that waiting times for elective care and urgent and urgent care are already “far beyond the norm” and that the winter of 2022-23 “will most likely see performance deteriorate further”. ”.

The document also states that “threats and external challenges could impact the health/life” of the population, “as well as add additional pressure on the functioning of the health and social protection system”. The main threats are “industrial action, failure of social care providers, energy disruptions, extreme weather incidents and civil unrest,” the report says.

A rise in other health problems linked to cold homes is also of concern, with data cited in the briefing suggesting that the death rate increases by 2.8% for each degree of drop in temperature for people living within 10% of coldest houses. The health impact will likely be compounded by a drop in the number of people spending money on medicines and nutritious food, and an increase in debt-related mental health problems, he adds.

NHS England said it could not yet share further details of its plans to expand volunteering, but was “exploring options”. It has started discussions with the 42 integrated care systems in England to create volunteer roles which will be ‘designed and mobilized to meet local priorities’. The webpage for the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme, launched in April 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic, says the volunteering scheme is now being revamped ‘for the long term’ and will be ‘reshaped to help the NHS meet the needs of people , at local and national levels. More volunteers will be recruited and “additional roles” created, he says.

Separately, NHS England has published advice for trusts on how to manage pressure on services over the winter, including asking them to consider using voluntary organizations to help meet the 999 calls for “level two” falls. These include cases where patients have a small wound or pain, and further clinical evaluation is needed, but the injuries are not life-threatening.

The 2017 NHS guidelines state that volunteers do not replace paid staff and play a different role. They don’t have a contract and instead the tasks they perform are based on “mutually agreed expectations”.

The DHSC said: ‘We are hugely grateful to the selfless people who volunteer with the NHS, but we know the NHS needs extra support. That’s why we prioritized health and social care in the autumn statement with up to £14.1billion over the next two years, and announced a new elective recovery task force to further reduce the backlogs caused by the pandemic.


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