National Ambulance Workshop underlines importance of Volunteers

The importance of volunteers as part of the overall team delivering ambulance services was underlined in bold on 13th October 2022 when just under 100 delegates from all parts of the UK ambulance sector met to discuss the future strategy for volunteering across all individual ambulance services.

The National Ambulance Volunteering Workshop was specifically designed for AACE members, held in central London and led by Helen Vine, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives’ (AACE) National Strategic Lead for Volunteering. It was supported by Emma Valentine, Voluntary Partnerships Lead at NHS England.

“Today is all about sharing ideas and thoughts about the future of volunteering in the ambulance service,” said AACE Chair Daren Mochrie in his opening welcome.

Attendees from all UK ambulance trusts represented all parts of the ambulance sector including volunteers, volunteer managers and strategic leaders.

Ambulance service volunteers include community first responders (CFRs), volunteer car drivers, education, community engagement, patient participation, staff welfare, governor, and fundraising volunteers.

Said Helen Vine:

The breadth and range of delegates at our workshop underline the increasing importance of volunteers as a crucial part of the ambulance team delivering services to patients daily.

Volunteers are actively deployed in every UK ambulance trust in a range of roles, the most common being community first responders, responding to cardiac arrests and health emergencies in their own communities.

There are also many volunteer car drivers, supporting thousands of patients to get to and from important hospital appointments. These and our other education, support, welfare and engagement volunteers have a huge impact on patient outcomes and patient experience and they add significant value for our staff.

The workshop brought out some clear messages which will help inform a new national ambulance volunteering strategy that is being developed by AACE in collaboration with volunteers, ambulance staff and NHS England’s Voluntary Partnership Team.

Helen continued:

The vast resource and added value that volunteers bring to the ambulance sector cannot and must not be underestimated.

However, we now need to quantify and evidence their contribution and this can only be done with robust data from all AACE members so that there is a clear understanding of the impact and benefits that volunteers bring to ambulance services and patients.

We also need to ensure there is a leadership infrastructure for volunteers which is sufficient, properly funded and embedded within each ambulance service so we can successfully lead and support our amazing volunteers. The capacity of volunteering is limited only by the capacity of our leadership teams.

During the workshop we discussed the added value of the volunteering offer to patients, communities, our staff and ambulance organisations. As well as considering what data we need to gather and how our leadership teams will be structured, we’ve also shared our thoughts on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Key themes to come out of the workshop included:

  • Reducing inconsistencies in the way we recruit, train, deploy and support volunteers
  • Raising awareness and understanding of volunteer roles and their impact
  • Improving the volunteering experience for all of our volunteers
  • Ensuring we recognise and celebrate the achievements of our volunteers
  • Considering how we can ensure continuous funding for volunteer services
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion in volunteering

Another notable delegate was Helen Gilburt, Fellow in Health Policy at The King’s Fund, who published a report in May 2022 about volunteering in the NHS entitled, ‘Adding value: A strategic vision for volunteering in the NHS.’ 

Helen said:

This year we did a major piece of work to explore opportunities for developing a strategic approach to volunteering in NHS trusts and what that might look like. So it’s exciting that AACE has joined forces with NHS England and is devoting resources to develop a national volunteering strategy across the ambulance sector.

The enthusiasm of the delegates today, and the appetite to maximize the value of volunteering and sharing good practice has been palpable and extremely encouraging. Volunteers complement and add so much to the NHS workforce and the unique value of volunteers is that they bring so much of themselves that goes beyond just the activity they are involved in.

It has been described as a ‘third culture of care’, so volunteers for example can add a layer of comfort to the patient experience by just being there and helping calm and reassure the patient and their families and friends.

Emma Valentine of NHS England said:

Covid shone a light on volunteering across the NHS, and especially in the ambulance sector which has the most established model of clinical volunteering in the NHS. There are some significant opportunities for the future of volunteering in the ambulance sector but we need to get the infrastructure right going forwards, building on the excellent foundations already in place.

However, there is such variation amongst different parts of the ambulance sector in terms of how volunteers are involved and embedded and this is hindering effective development of volunteering going forward. It would be great to see more consistency and therefore maximise  the benefits on a much larger scale. As we come out of the worst of the Covid pandemic, now is the time to build and capitalize on the momentum so more patients, staff and ambulance services can benefit from the impact volunteers can bring.

The day was summarised by Anna Parry, Deputy Managing Director of AACE, who said:

One of the key messages from today is that volunteering forms an extraordinary component of ambulance work that we all know deserves a higher profile than it currently has. AACE, alongside its member organisations, can really help in this regard as we develop a new strategy for the future of volunteering together.

So let’s keep going and build on the work that’s already been done, let’s learn and keep learning from each other and ultimately, directly contribute to improved clinical outcomes and experiences for our patients and service users.

Feedback from volunteers on the day was also extremely positive with one delegate saying he had never enjoyed a volunteer event as much as he did the workshop, while another said that he truly believes something very positive will happen as a result of the work we’re doing and the workshop experience – he’d never had that confidence until now.

The next stage of the programme is the development of the draft strategy by Helen Vine on behalf of AACE and its member ambulance services. For more details please contact