Health officials are drawing up plans to recruit thousands of additional volunteers to help the NHS cope with ambulance delays and hospital pressures this winter, according to a leaked document laying bare the scale of the crisis in Britain’s healthcare system.
NHS performance is “highly likely to deteriorate further” due to increased winter demand and industrial action, reveals the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) report seen by the Observer.
It also warns of a possible increase in hospital admissions because of the cold weather Y rising cost of living. “If some people, especially the elderly, respond to higher fuel prices by turning off or turning down the heat, this may lead to increased admissions for heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory diseases,” the document says.
The 31-page report was leaked as the NHS faces some of the biggest strikes in its history and register waiting lists. More than 7.2 million people in England are waiting for routine treatment, the highest number since records began.
Last month, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to the hospital after the decision to admit them was made, 255% more than in 2021 and 3,303% more than in November 2019.
Measures ministers are considering to “build resilience” in the NHS include expanding the drive to recruit volunteers, beefing up ambulance staff and providing support in hospitals and the community.
In August, the NHS launched a Four-year, £30 million contract with St John Ambulance to provide “boost capacity” for 10 ambulance trusts and act as an official ancillary service for England. Under the agreement, the first of its kind, the charity provides a minimum of 5,000 hours of support per month through teams with the ability to respond to the most urgent and life-threatening 999 calls.
The leaked government document says plans to increase the volunteer workforce “will be based on the approach recently agreed with St John Ambulance.” He adds: “We will build on the volunteers who are already supporting the NHS and extend this further within local communities.”
Thousands of volunteers were recruited during the pandemic to help implement the vaccination programme, and volunteers are already providing behind-the-scenes support in other parts of the NHS.
However, the document sets out plans for a concerted effort to expand and broaden its role at a time when basic services are struggling to find staff and are under increasing pressure.
The roles volunteers play in the NHS range from delivering medicines and driving ambulances to preparing beds for newly admitted patients and ‘general ward cleaning’.
An advert, posted by an NHS trust in the north of England, claims it is looking for “urgent and emergency care volunteers” as well as people to volunteer in its 33-bed ward for cardiology patients and the elderly. . There, volunteer tasks include “ensuring patients stay hydrated, ensuring hygiene needs are met…and basic administrative tasks like answering the phone,” he says.
Miriam Deakin, policy director at NHS Providers, which represents intensive care, ambulance and other NHS trusts, said that while volunteers “have always played a key role in the NHS” beyond basic services, “they just haven’t there is no substitute for a properly staffed workforce.” ”.
“There are a staggering 133,000 vacancies across the NHS right now. This needs to be urgently addressed by the government in the form of a fully funded long-term workforce plan,” he said.
Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “What we need is a skilled and skilled workforce to try to deal with the problems we have at the moment. It’s not just about the boots on the ground, it’s also about the ability and training of the staff. “A crisis is unfolding in emergency care caused by a massive mismatch between supply and demand. There is too much work for our hospitals and our ambulance services, and the consequence of this is long lines of ambulances outside emergency departments, but it is a sign of stress throughout the system. hospitals they are absolutely packed right now.”
Details of the plan to expand the volunteer workforce are laid out in internal winterization documents drawn up by officials for ministers in October.
The report paints a bleak picture of the challenges facing the NHS and its ability to cope, stating that waiting times for elective care and urgent and emergency care are already “far beyond the standard” and that in the winter 2022-23 “performance will most likely deteriorate further.” ”.
The document also states that “external threats and challenges could affect the health/life” of the population, “in addition to adding additional pressure to the functioning of the health and social care system.” The key threats are “industrial action, social care provider failure, power outage, extreme weather incidents, and civil unrest,” she says.
The rise in other health problems associated with cold homes is also cause for concern, with data cited in the report suggesting that the death rate increases by 2.8% for every degree drop in temperature for people staying indoors. found in the coldest 10% of homes. The health impact will likely be compounded by a decline in people spending money on medicines and nutritious food, and an increase in debt-related mental health problems, it adds.
NHS England said it could not yet share any further details about its plans to expand volunteering but was “exploring options”. It has started discussions with the 42 integrated care systems in England to create volunteer roles that will be “designed and mobilized to meet local priorities”. he says the volunteer program is now being redesigned “for the long term” and will be “reformed to help the NHS meet people’s needs, locally and nationally.” More volunteers will be recruited and “additional roles” will be created, she says.
Separately, NHS England has published advice for trusts on how to manage the pressure on services over the winter, including instructing them to consider commissioning voluntary organizations to help answer 999 calls for “level two” falls. These include cases where patients have a minor injury or pain, and further clinical evaluation is needed, but the injuries are not life-threatening.
The 2017 NHS guidance says that volunteers do not replace paid staff and fill a different role. They do not have contracts and the functions they perform are based instead on “mutually agreed expectations”.
Wes Streeting, Labor’s shadow health secretary, said increasing reliance on volunteers was “not a long-term solution.” “The NHS clearly needs all hands on deck this winter as the Conservatives have failed to train enough staff in the last 12 years,” he said.
The DHSC said: “We are hugely grateful to the selfless people who volunteer in the NHS, but we know the NHS needs more support. That’s why we’ve prioritized health and social care in the autumn statement with up to £14.1bn over the next two years, and announced a new elective recovery task force to tackle delays caused by the pandemic”.