Good News! People, Help the People & the NHS

“No one cares these days…..everyone is in it for themselves”  A refrain that seems to echo around conversations within my earshot on a regular basis. Good news! It isn’t true. Look:

Three million people volunteer in hospitals each year according to the Kings Fund study…..and even better.

  • Innovative forms of volunteering are reaching out to new communities and engaging people in service delivery in new ways. 
  • In some hospitals, volunteers are increasingly being seen as an integral part of the care team rather than an ‘add on’

The full report can be found here.

And this is just the hospital figure. In the UK – according to the Institute for Volunteering Research, 44% of people volunteered in 2012/13 and 29% of people did so at least monthly. What a resource – imagine if it were harnessed, what could we achieve?

In an era where the NHS has to change, the role of volunteers can go even further than the range of brilliant befriending schemes, luncheon clubs and digital inclusion classes we see about the City. Volunteers as members and Governors of NHS Foundation Trusts could fundamentally help to reshape the NHS and social care.

Imagine a world where trusts had a vibrant and engaged membership where:

  • staff were recruited for values by the people who they were to treat and support. Older ladies interviewing district nurses to see if they care. School children interviewing community paediatricians to test their rapport. General managers explaining their role to sceptical citizens in advance of appointment.
  • groups of volunteers were able to look at the environments in which care was provided in the trust of which they were members, unaccompanied and trained to look out for issues, as well as using their judgement of the space as people. In doing so, they would make sure that they were “Safe and Clean”.

Safe and clean

  • Service changes were driven by staff and public members in a team testing what should change and how. A real focus on purpose and outcomes drove these changes too, with social value at the heart of reform.
  • New communications material was tested by members to see if it was accessible and readable and free from health jargon and polite, with reader groups of everyone from adults with a learning disability to older people and teens.

This is the world we are building in Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust. All of the above is happening through our 10,000 members….and it could not be more real.  This was brought home to me at “The Event” this week – our two-day showcase of change, innovation, research and progress……at The Event, we had members showcasing their work; members asking the searching questions of the speakers; members pushing for change; members volunteering to get involved in the next big set of changes. I looked up from my position on the stage at an audience of staff and public members and felt that something had genuinely changed.

Theevent

So why do our members get involved? Their motives are many. One member described how they wanted to give something back to the NHS. Another was angry at poor care in the past and wanted things to be better. Another lady told me how:

“I really enjoyed the recruitment. I took the day off work to help you out. It made me feel valued and I don’t feel valued at work”

If you live in Yorkshire and the Humber – get involved. We would love to work with you. Details are here

This is important stuff in terms of delivery too. As an NHS Chief Executive developing sustainable services over a five-year period, I expect to take another 25% of costs out of my organisation. In doing so, I have quite a simple view. If you take 25% of costs out of something then it cannot be the same thing afterwards. This means fundamental change is required. In Leeds, we have been driving a change that has three elements:

  1. A risk based approach that is focused on prevention and support for people with long-term conditions and older people;
  2. Joined up services provided by single teams made up of health and social care staff, supported by the voluntary sector neighbourhood networks
  3. Supported self-care and self management being delivered at scale – seeing the assets that people have and building on them

This is at the heart of our Integration Pioneer as well as our future as an NHS Trust. We want to work with the assets that exist within patients, carers, families and communities to deliver a sustainable future for the NHS….and real change is beginning to happen as a result. I blogged about this here and Elsie’s Golden Key.

If you are reading this and thinking that I am delusional or overly positive about the role of volunteers in the service of the future, the challenge I would put back is that people tend to be more intelligent, resilient, creative, reasonable and often brilliant than you could imagine. If you need some proof, look at the work on the skills of public health  volunteers published by the excellent Professor Jane South at Leeds Metropolitan University – example here.

Or you could just give it a go. Because “Patient Leadership” is a big part of your future, my future and the future of the NHS. As the NHS Constitution famously starts….”The NHS Belongs to the People”….

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