Our Volunteering in NHSScotland programme helps make volunteering in the NHS a safe, supportive and positive experience for all volunteers. But with access to hospitals limited during the COVID-19 pandemic and many volunteers in the shielding category, what volunteering opportunities are there in the NHS right now? For many, it’s being a vaccination programme volunteer, as Janice Malone, our Volunteering Programme Manager, tells us.

What do you think of when you think of a volunteer? The word conjures up all kinds of images in my head. At Healthcare Improvement Scotland in the Volunteering in NHSScotland Programme it means many things – from mealtime volunteers and way-finders who help direct people around hospitals to play volunteers in children’s wards. The Volunteering Programme exists to support the development of safe, sustainable and person centred volunteering across NHSScotland.

As details of vaccines for COVID-19 began to filter through in late 2020, it was clear to me that volunteers could play a significant role in supporting the rollout of the vaccine programme. Not only that, but by involving volunteers in such a significant milestone in the route out of the pandemic, it would allow communities to be empowered and feel they are contributing to something bigger. I was glad to discover that others thought the same.

Making connections

I began to make connections with the relevant people and departments within Scottish Government, who were considering a proposal from the British Red Cross on the creation of a National Volunteer Co-ordination Hub. The Hub offers all NHS boards in Scotland a flexible approach to the mobilisation and deployment of volunteers to vaccination centres. They are able to draw on the 20,000 plus volunteers across Scotland who signed up to support the response to the pandemic through the Ready Scotland campaign, and offer a range of support based on the needs of NHS boards.

The speed at which the Hub has developed and begun to deploy volunteers has been rapid, and in my view, is testament to the partnership approach between Scottish Government, British Red Cross and NHSScotland. So far, approximately 1300 volunteers have provided thousands of hours of support to vaccination centres in roles like queue marshalling to ensure social distancing or meeting and greeting patients to explain how the vaccination centre operates. But much more important than just the number of volunteers is the impact these volunteers who gifted their time to NHSScotland and the vaccination programme have made. They provide much-needed reassurance and crucial human connection for people, many of whom feel frightened and are vulnerable after a year of such turbulence.

Critical friend

An interesting development has been our role as a conduit for two-way communications between NHSScotland volunteering structures and the National Volunteer Co-ordination Hub. We have been able to provide real-time feedback on the plans for the Hub, create a process for staff to raise questions or concerns and respond to them. The volunteering programme acts as a critical friend to the Hub ensuring that NHSScotland policy and best practice for volunteering works cohesively with what is an emergency response situation. For the most part, the feedback has been hugely positive, with patients commenting on the friendly welcomes they have been given by volunteers and how smooth the whole process has been.

This is a fast paced and challenging piece of work, which is likely to last long beyond the initial emergency response phase that we are currently in. We will continue to work with our partners in the National Volunteer Co-ordination Hub in the months to come and support the transition from emergency response to a business as usual approach when the time comes.

I have been passionate about volunteering for more years than I care to remember and I have no doubt of the positive impact that volunteering has on individuals, communities and on the wider society. The devastation and turmoil wreaked by this pandemic has been harrowing, but one thing I hold dear is seeing the kindness of individuals and communities who step up and volunteer to help. I am full of hope and optimism that the benefits and the impact of volunteering will be much more widely recognised across all sectors in our society than they have been in the past.

Janice Malone is the Programme Manager for the Volunteering in NHSScotland programme.

More information

You can keep up to date with the latest guidance on Volunteering during Covid-19 on our website.