The thousands of NHS volunteers who supported others during the Covid-19 pandemic should provide a “positive legacy” for the health service’s future, England’s top nurse has said.
According to NHS England, new data shows that 436,000 people from the NHS Volunteer Responders programme have carried out nearly two million tasks for those who had to stay at home during the coronavirus crisis.
This included phone calls to the isolated, delivering medicines, and stewarding Covid vaccination sites.
The figures are released as the NHS converts Twickenham rugby stadium in south-west London into the “biggest vaccination centre in England” – staffed with the help of volunteers.
New research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) found that the wellbeing benefit to volunteers taking part in the programme was equivalent to what they would feel from receiving a £1,800 bonus, NHS England said.
It said a further 74,000 people signed up to a similar scheme to support the NHS vaccination programme launched on New Year’s Day, with volunteer stewards so far racking up 387,000 hours of support.
An additional 27,000 volunteers were recruited by St John Ambulance and more than a million people have also volunteered for Covid-19 research programmes, NHS England said.
Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England said: “There is no doubt that everyone who has stepped up during the pandemic has helped us to save countless lives.”
Thanking volunteers, she added: “As we work now to recover services and focus again on our priorities for improving care, it’s vital that we continue to provide those flexible opportunities for people to support those efforts when they are able, using the innovative approach during Covid as a positive legacy of the pandemic and a blueprint for the future.”
Professor Paul Dolan, from the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE, said the NHS Volunteer Responders programme was “the largest mobilisation of pro-social action in the UK” since the end of the Second World War.
He adding: “Its success shows just how good helping other people can feel.
“We could take the lessons and impacts from this programme as a model for a National Volunteering System.”