Times are changing but the NHS still needs you…
Through every stage of the pandemic, you have been there to help keep people safe. Whether it was delivering pulse oximeters, or standing up as a Steward Volunteer, you’ve been ready for anything. Please be there for the next breakthrough too, says Neil Churchill.
Life over the last 12 months has been stop-start. There have been times when both daughters have been away at university and times when they have both been kicking their heels at home. Times when my mum has been able to have visitors and times when I’ve fully supported her to shield at home. Fitting volunteering into a changing schedule is never easy, although one massive benefit of the NHS Volunteer Responder programme is the ability to switch yourself on and off duty when it suits.
More changes are afoot now with the government’s roadmap to easing pandemic restrictions. More children will be going back to school and after that more people will be able to work. Like everyone there are masses of things I am beginning to look forward to resuming when circumstances allow, not least taking my mum out of the house.
And as circumstances change, it's tempting to think we are no longer needed as volunteer responders. But we know from our experience last year, when the country came out of lockdown, that this simply isn't the case.
Vulnerable people and the NHS will still need our help.
Firstly, many people will still be self-isolating for a while yet. The vaccination campaign is going extremely well but we can’t relax until every vulnerable person has had both shots.
Secondly, NHS Volunteer Responders have been crucial in enabling the NHS to deliver rapid, life-saving innovation in our response to COVID-19. You were ready and able to deliver pulse oximeters to people’s homes, so they could tell if their condition was deteriorating sufficiently to call for emergency help. You were there when we needed vaccination stewards. Hopefully, you will be there when the next breakthrough occurs.
Finally, as many of you have pointed out, the needs you are addressing won’t go away once COVID-19 is under control. Some people will still be lonely and isolated and in need of an uplifting chat. Others will find it impossible to get out to do the shopping or fetch their prescriptions.
The beauty of NHS Volunteer Responders is that you don’t need to commit to helping out the same day each week. You can just switch yourself on duty when you have free time, even if it comes unexpectedly. So however your home and work life changes, and I really hope it is for the better, the satisfying buzz that you get from volunteering to help the NHS can still be a part of your weekly schedule. On your own terms.
Times are changing for the better. But the NHS still needs your help. Please be there if you can.
Dr. Neil Churchill OBE
Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities at NHS England and NHS Improvement.
25 February 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Neil has led support for vulnerable individuals and groups. In more normal times, Neil's focus is on understanding people's experiences of the NHS, involving people and communities in decision-making and leading change to improve the quality and equality of care. Major initiatives include NHS Volunteer Responders and NHS Commitments to Carers.
Neil joined NHS England after a 25-year career in the voluntary sector. He is a member of the Strategy Board for the Beryl Institute and a trustee of the charities Future Care Capital and Care for the Carers. He tweets as @neilgchurchill.