Cash strapped councils and health trusts are using volunteers to replace paid social care staff, according to a damning Kings Fund report.
The report, called Volunteering in health and care: Securing a sustainable future, says the work of volunteers to improve support in social and healthcare is being undermined by employers increasingly see them as a substitute for paid staff.
This could create friction in social care settings and may lead to some volunteers deciding to stop volunteering, the Kings Fund warns.
Kings Fund fellow and report co-author Chris Naylor said: “There are huge opportunities for volunteering to help transform health and social care services and bring about real improvements for patients and the wider public.
“However, for this to be realised service providers and commissioners must take a much more strategic approach to volunteering, with clarity of roles and clearly articulated objectives. Volunteering should be used as a means of improving quality rather than reducing short-term costs, and this vision needs to be communicated clearly.”
The charity is calling on commissioners and providers to have a clear strategy in place on their use of volunteers. This needs to clarify the differences between paid and voluntary roles and show how volunteers will be used to improve services.
The report adds: “There is a need for clarity regarding the boundaries between professional and volunteer roles. Sensitivities around job substitution, real or perceived, need to be handled carefully.”
The Kings Fund also wants to see a commitment from commissioners and providers that volunteers will not be used to reduce staff costs.
In addition, providers and commissioners need to improve how they evaluate their use of volunteers. “There is a striking lack of information about the scale or impact of volunteering in health and social care. Addressing this should be a priority,” says the report.