The government and charities should tap into a potential “army” of volunteers who are service users to expand volunteering in health and social care, the volunteering champion, Lady Neuberger, urged yesterday.
Neuberger called for a pilot, based on a US model, where recovered service-users volunteer to befriend people with similar conditions.
“No one understands what it is like to have a condition like a person who has that condition themselves, which is why service-user volunteers can make such an enormous contribution to health and social care,” said Neuberger.
However, Neuberger found that unnecessary and lengthy Criminal Records Bureau checks held back prospective volunteers, in her first report on volunteering in public services published yesterday.
Neuberger argued: “Some organisations require mandatory CRB checks for all their volunteers. This is clearly unnecessary. Checks should only be undertaken where a volunteer might spend time alone with young people or vulnerable adults. Managers need to show some common sense and stop, for example, requiring CRB checks for people working on hospital radio stations.”
Added to this, she identified a further resistance in public services where unions perceived volunteers as a “form of cheap labour”.
“It is extremely important to avoid this very real risk,” said Neuberger, “No one benefits if this is what actually happens – not volunteers, not staff, and lest we forget, not the actual users of the services… this is not a cost-cutting measure.”
Neuberger put forward a series of recommendations to address the aversion to using volunteers in health and social care services, which included in-house volunteering hubs in all government agencies and commonplace employee volunteering schemes.
To ensure that the recommendations are realised, Neuberger suggested the government set up a programme board, probably in the Department of Health, to take forward volunteering in public services.
Alan Johnson, health secretary, said the DH would “consider the recommendations” and welcomed the report’s “powerful insight” into volunteering in public services.