An NHS volunteer programme is set to be expanded into social care as part of a move which the government has claimed will ‘free up’ time for the professional workforce.
Backed by £3m of investment, untrained volunteers will now be called on to support people waiting to be admitted to hospital, those recently discharged and those in the community.
The government said this will ‘free up the social care workforce enabling them to focus on those with more complex needs’.
However, the union Unison has criticised the government for failing to address the underlying workforce issues affecting the adult social care sector and branded the volunteering programme a ‘ridiculous scheme’.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that the programme would ‘do nothing to ease the huge staffing problems hampering social care’, adding that ‘irresponsible employers will have a field day’.
‘As well-meaning as volunteers might be, untrained individuals are simply no substitute for the army of care workers needed to fill the growing number of vacancies,’ Ms McAnea said.
Unison’s comments come as the union launches its own ‘roadmap’ for developing a National Care Service for adult social care modelled on the NHS.
As part of the scheme, the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme – which the government said was a ‘success’ during the pandemic – will expand into social care to form a ‘joint NHS and care volunteering programme’.
Members of the public will be able to sign up to the ‘GoodSAM’ app currently used by NHS volunteers to offer their time in support of vulnerable members of the community.
Volunteers joining the programme may choose from three available roles: Check in and Chat Plus, Pick up and Deliver, and Community Response.
According to the government, the Pick up and Deliver service has been ‘specifically designed to support hospital discharge and prevent admissions’.
Volunteers will also be able help transport medicines and small items of medical equipment to people’s homes and community settings to ‘aid discharge from hospital’, it added.
Minister for care Helen Whately said that the launch of this programme will ‘support the discharge of medically fit patients from hospital, freeing up the time so our workforce can focus on meeting more complex needs and most importantly support people to live independently at home for longer’.
Meanwhile, Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said she was ‘delighted’ that the scheme was being expanded and that she looked forward to ‘seeing what positive changes this move can bring for our social care colleagues’.
Dame May added: ‘There are a wide range of roles available which give amazing support to our patients and existing staff – we are looking for people who can help provide essentials to others who may be vulnerable, or for those who want to take a potential first step into a career in the NHS.’
Recruitment for Community Response and Pick up and Deliver are open now, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, with activity set to begin in ‘the coming weeks’.