Social care volunteer plans ‘a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed’

Social care leaders have warned that using volunteers to take medicines and prescriptions to people must not be a distraction to “systematic, Government-induced issues” impacting the struggling sector.

A volunteer programme for the NHS is being expanded into social care, with those who sign up offering support to people receiving care from local services in their community, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.

The Government said the scheme will be “backed by £3 million” and use the GoodSAM app to connect those in need with volunteers who can “offer a friendly voice to those who may be experiencing loneliness”.

Volunteers will also help transport medicines or small items of medical equipment to people’s homes or community settings from NHS sites in a bid to support discharge from hospital and prevent admissions.

Other duties include collecting and delivering food shopping and essential items as well as prescriptions and medications to people in the community, DHSC said.

The department said volunteers are crucial in supporting the health and care sector and complementing the existing workforce, but they “do not replace the existing, highly valued, paid health and care staff”.

Care leaders welcomed the use of volunteers, but warned that investment in the trained workforce is still badly needed and must be a priority.

Mike Padgham (pictured), chairman of the Independent Care Group (ICG), described the plans as “a drop in the ocean” in a sector which saw a record 165,000 vacancies for the year 2021/22.

His concerns were echoed by the head of Care England, which is the leading representative body for small, medium and large providers in the country.

Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “Whilst this is a positive step forward, particularly in light of the workforce pressures, this needs to form part of a long-term workforce plan which recognises care as a skilled profession whereby care staff are remunerated appropriately through increased central government funding.

“Volunteers have proved to be of benefit to the NHS and can certainly play a role in supporting the care sector or introducing the brilliance of our sector to a wider cohort of individuals.

“Whilst we appreciate this is a short-term measure, the Government must not use this to overlook the ongoing, systematic, Government-induced issues which continue to afflict the sector.”

Mr Padgham, whose ICG represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said that while the volunteer announcement is welcome it is “only a tiny little bit” in terms of help and “much more” is needed.

He told BBC Breakfast: “From our perspective, it’s a drop in the ocean, there’s much more that needs to be done.

“Volunteers are welcome of course and they do an excellent job but they can’t do the job of trained carers, that’s the problem.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay insisted volunteers would be an addition rather than a replacement for trained carers.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Volunteers need to be additional, not a replacement, to social care and that’s exactly how we intend to use them.

“But we do think volunteers have always played an important role within the NHS we think that can be applied more widely.”

Care minister Helen Whately said: “Volunteers can be a lifeline for people needing support. They can provide help to people needing a hand with food shopping, picking up prescriptions or even battling loneliness by lending a listening ear.”

She said volunteers can “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”.

The Government was criticised for announcing earlier this year that social care workforce funding would be halved from a previously pledged £500 million.

The announcement was branded a betrayal by charities, unions and opposition parties which accused ministers of broken promises.

But the Government insisted at the time that no funding for the adult social care sector had been removed or re-allocated to the NHS, and that up to £600 million mentioned in its December 2021 People at the Heart of Care White Paper had “not yet been allocated” and will be targeted on measures “that will have the most impact” over the next two years.

Find out more information on the NHS Volunteer Responders website at

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