Financial pressures could lead the NHS to substitute paid staff for volunteers.
A report from health think tank The King's Fund warned that although volunteers are an important source of help for patients, boundaries between professional and volunteer staff must be made clear.
Volunteers play a “vital role” in delivering services, such as assisting with mealtimes and befriending older people in care homes and they could be an “increasingly important part of the care team”, the report suggested.
“Volunteering should be used as a means of improving quality rather than reducing short-term costs, and this vision needs to be communicated clearly,” said Chris Naylor, co-author and at the King’s Fund.
Naylor said that volunteering could bring about “real improvements” for patients and the public, but said there needs to a more targeted approach.
“Service providers and commissioners must take a much more strategic approach to volunteering, with clarity of roles and clearly articulated objectives,” he said.
The report pointed out a “striking” lack of information about the impact of volunteering on health and social care.