Local learning from a national volunteer scheme over the pandemic

The NHS Volunteer Responders (NHSVR) programme was set up at pace and scale in March 2020 to support those vulnerable or clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 and to support the NHS in England. This programme was a new innovation in health and micro-volunteering which brought together three new partners – NHS England, Royal Voluntary Service, with the GoodSAM app which supported fast recruitment of volunteers and sophisticated digital deployment.     

NHS England advised systems to integrate NHSVR and the aim was to provide a bolt-on transactional task-based support to existing voluntary services.   The national call to action saw over 600,000 people registering to volunteer, many for the first time. Response to the NHSVR offer varied hugely across the country and within Lancashire and South Cumbria, according to the strength of existing local service provision.      

The NHSVR programme continues to evolve as the needs of the NHS changes (eg COVID-19 spikes, winter/flu season) therefore, understanding the impact of this programme and changing needs are critically important. 

In November 2020 we agreed to take part in a funded ‘Embed and Evaluate’ research programme to understand more about why the NHSVR service worked well or not within Lancashire and South Cumbria and what could be improved.   This report gives summary insight. The full data is presented in an interactive format that allows manipulation of data for example by ICP or CCG or LA levels.     

The model we adopted in Lancashire and South Cumbria supported two sub-cells of the Local Resilience Forum focussing on VCFSE capacity and the Community Hubs sub-cell, delivering regular trends analysis and troubleshooting. The aim was to support the integration of national support with local delivery. The NHSVR offering in some cases conflicted with existing capable VCFSE infrastructure and in others filled gaps and was well received. 

The NHSVR offering was never strategic as there was no time to plan and was only intended as a bolt-on task-based transactional service to support local. This report offers an opportunity to act as a platform for a bigger discussion about the volunteer contribution and huge potential for the VCFSE sector to impact through wider partnership working and collaboration, in support of the VCFSE Alliance Group. 

We have an opportunity to build upon the voluntary sector experience of the pandemic and to drive integration supporting communities.    We feel this research and report is only the start. 

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