East Sussex Community Voice (ESCV) has published a new report
on how the NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme (NHSVRS) worked in Sussex during the pandemic. The scheme was developed at pace to deliver ‘micro-volunteering’ roles to support vulnerable people and the NHS.
The report was commissioned by the Sussex Health & Care Partnership (SHCP) as part of a national programme funded by NHS England (NHSE). It describes how NHSVRS has been used, what models were adopted in Crawley, Eastbourne and Hastings, how NHSVR was integrated with local services and schemes and the challenges and lessons learnt.
Take up of the scheme was different in the three areas. From April to December 2020 there were 200 referrals for people in Crawley, 966 for Hastings and 963 for Eastbourne. In all three areas, most referrals came in the first three months. Referral rates were much lower in the summer when the first lockdown ended. With a new lockdown in December, there was an increase in referrals.
There were similarities in the tasks being requested across the three areas, the most requested task was for community response
(76% Crawley, 72% Eastbourne and 77% Hastings). Community response is a one-off task, primarily to collect shopping and prescriptions. Volunteers tended to want practical, one-off tasks rather than longer-term.
There was rapid growth in local support systems at the beginning of lockdown in all three areas. All local authorities started support systems before lockdown started and the voluntary sector also mobilised existing and new services. People from both statutory and voluntary agencies reported that all organisations worked well together.
Inter-agency working was supported by local community networks, often initiated by the statutory agency but soon taken over by a co-ordinating voluntary agency in each area. NHSVRS was not part of local community meetings and operated independently.
Local support schemes aimed for consistency of volunteer to provide some consistency. This enabled a more holistic and person-centred approach compared to NHSVR, which worked best when providing specific, one-off, practical tasks.
NHSVR galvanised a whole new group of people to volunteer, many people wanted to help in a time of crisis. The NHS ‘brand’ may have led to some people volunteering for the national scheme rather than a local one.
Future pressures on support systems linked to the pandemic will be linked to unemployment, evictions and related issues such as food poverty, homelessness and debt. The impact on mental health and wellbeing is also expected to increasingly be felt.
The report contains eight recommendations, including the wind-down of NHSVR. Lessons learned from NHSVR should be widely shared to help support local systems to develop. Future centralised volunteering schemes should be integrated with local community support networks and digital systems for volunteering such as the GoodSAM app need exploring to enable more people to access volunteering opportunities and address digital exclusion.
Read the report