NHS Volunteer Responders Blog

How GoodSAM is bringing technology and communities together during COVID-19

As you may know, GoodSAM has been connecting those who ‘can’ to those who ‘need’ for around 7 years, most notably by sending nearby CPR-trained volunteers to give first aid to victims of cardiac arrest until an ambulance arrives. (This is separate from the NHS Volunteer Responders programme so you won’t receive these alerts.) It is this geo-location matching of volunteers with people near them who need their help that led to GoodSAM’s involvement with the NHS Volunteer Responders programme.

The programme was rapidly set up by the NHS in the first days of the pandemic. GoodSAM and Royal Voluntary Service were each brought on board because of the specialist skills they could provide. Over the past year NHS Volunteer Responders has revolutionised the concept of ‘micro-volunteering’, enabling you amazing volunteers to fit volunteering into your lives by choosing which hours you can be on-duty each day. The programme has developed to support the changing needs of the NHS during the pandemic and has been an incredible success thanks to you – the volunteers - who have carried out more than 1.6 million acts of kindness over the last 12 months.

The GoodSAM app for NHS Volunteer Responders has been further developed during the year to support changes in the programme and make things as easy as possible for volunteers and referrers. One of these changes was for the new Steward Volunteer role. Our Steward Volunteers need to see forthcoming shifts in their area for several weeks in advance, and this required new functionality in the app. The system is complex and we continue to evolve this.

For example, we know it would be great for local volunteers to receive a push notification about tasks however, it would be unfair if these always went to those closest. Another consideration is that if hundreds of people were alerted to a need of one or two people, there would be a great many people who would miss the opportunity to accept the tasks. Therefore, we have developed complex algorithms that will ensure such requests are fairly distributed so that those who are eager to help have the opportunity to do so.

But GoodSAM has been doing much more during COVID-19! GoodSAM is also a platform used by many ambulance and police services to open a caller’s smartphone camera. This enables them to see the patient and the scene, and this has been game changing in terms of helping people as quickly and effectively as possible during an emergency.  For example, services can see how a patient looks, how big a burn is or the nature of a rash. Patients with COVID-19 can be monitored at home where appropriate.

Police services are using GoodSAM to be able to see incidents immediately and forward that video to colleagues who are rushing to the scene to provide evidence and situational awareness. Many lives have been saved through this already. Superintendent Chris Bowen explains the benefits of the GoodSAM system in this video produced by West Yorkshire Police.

It is an exciting time in the development of GoodSAM’s services! Over the coming months we plan to expand our wider volunteer network system and recruit even more people to help provide CPR and the use of defibrillation for people who suffer a cardiac arrest when they are at home, work or in the community. This is vital as the survival from out of hospital cardiac arrest has fallen by half during COVID-19.

Once again, we thank you for all you have been doing to support those around you during COVID-19 and we hope that over the coming months, you continue with your volunteering and come with us on this journey to provide even greater care to your local community.

To find out more about GoodSAM’s other services, visit goodsamapp.org

Ali Ghorbangholi OBE
Co-founder and Technical Director of GoodSAM

Ali Ghorbangholi

26 March 2021


Page last reviewed: 26 March 2021

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.

Neil Churchill

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.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2021

With a little help from our friends….and volunteers

We thought Christmas was challenging and then along came January. There’s never been a winter like it for the NHS and we can only get through it together

This winter is probably the most challenging the NHS has ever faced as we cope with a surge in the new variant of the virus. As always, we are enormously grateful for the support we have received from NHS Volunteer Responders.

Many of you have kept going week in and week out throughout the pandemic, while others have switched back on duty or put in extra hours during the festive period. This has helped us meet a significant increase in need from people looking for help, whether practical or emotional.

There are many reasons why need has increased. People who are vulnerable to the virus, due to their age or an underlying health condition, have been hunkering down at home and need help once more collecting medicines, shopping or medical equipment. More people are being cared for at home, often with remote monitoring devices that volunteers have delivered. And as long days alone stretch into weeks, people who are lonely and isolated gain vital cheer from a check in and chat call. 

We have all seen this in our own families. I regularly look after my mum, but she lives 25 miles away and there are times when she needs to ask for help from a neighbour or a volunteer instead. I'm always impressed and grateful that the help is there for her when she needs it and like putting in time as an NHS Volunteer Responder to help vulnerable people living closer to me.

Thanks are to those of you who have also stepped forward to help with the mass vaccination campaigns. Many of the vaccination sites are new and unfamiliar, and steward volunteers will help people find their way around efficiently and safely. Volunteer vaccinators are also helping us inoculate vulnerable people faster. We appreciate that many of you are doing this on top of other volunteering roles. 

Now that the festive season is behind us, we need you to carry on as much as you can with the extra hours you have been putting in. While the vaccination campaign is obviously a priority, we don't want to let people down who are relying on us for other forms of support. We know we are asking a lot and that volunteering with NHSVR is one of many things going on in your lives. But if we can help vulnerable people through these weeks while they get vaccinated, we will play a major part in ending this terrible phase of the pandemic and moving the country onto better times.

Neil Churchill, Director, Experience, Participation and Equalities Group, NHS England and NHS Improvement

Neil Churchill

18 January 2021


Page last reviewed: 11 March 2021

Let the Christmas spirit ring

This may be a Christmas like no other, but, as NHS Volunteer Responders we can still bring some festive cheer to neighbours in need

Christmas is here and it’s not what many of us expected. Like many others, I’ve had to abandon plans to visit relatives, although my caring responsibilities will continue. Yet as well as spending time with friends and family, this is also a time of year when people want to help others. So, as you improvise your way through the festive season and realise that the TV schedule is not going to give you sufficient stimulation, please remember to switch on duty as an NHS Volunteer Responder when you have time to spare. 

The need for your help is growing daily. The increased infection rate associated with the new variant of COVID-19 has seen a significant growth in demand in many parts of the country. Yesterday alone saw a 90% increase in requests for support. As well as having a friendly conversation with people spending Christmas alone or helping those shielding from the virus with their shopping or medicines, there are now some additional ways that you can help. This week, for example, NHS Volunteer Responders have started signing up as stewards for the new vaccination sites, as we race to inoculate those most vulnerable to the virus. 

Christmas is already a difficult time for many people and this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, even more will spend it alone. NHS Volunteer Responders, like the NHS as a whole, will keep going throughout the holiday, matching those who need help with volunteers who have time to give. Please therefore take the time now to consider when you can switch yourself on duty over the Christmas and New Year break. Volunteers who go on duty can expect to receive alerts between 8.30am to 6pm throughout the Christmas and New Year holiday and the Contact Centre, Support Team and Safeguarding Team will be on duty with you as usual between 8am to 8pm. If going on duty is not an option for you over the holiday period, don't forget to switch back on as soon as you can. There will be plenty of people needing our support afterwards too.

This Christmas won’t be an ordinary Christmas but it is still a time of year people should not have to spend on their own. And chances are that you will find making a check-in call more rewarding than that Christmas repeat on the TV.

Neil Churchill, Director, Experience, Participation and Equalities Group, NHS England and NHS Improvement

Neil Churchill

23 December 2020

Page last reviewed: 11 March 2021