Could Volunteering Help General Practice?

With the growing pressures facing the NHS, there is an increasing demand on GP services. As a result, practices across the country are having to think of ways to make the most of their resources to deliver an effective service to patients. From working longer hours to shared appointments, there are a number of initiatives in place to try and ease the pressure on surgeries. Could volunteering provide a solution?

Volunteering in general practice: opportunities and insights

The subject of volunteering to help GPs comes from a report by The King’s Fund, who have examined the impact volunteers could have, and are already having on GP services. The study reports that there are already an estimated 1.7 million people already giving up their time to health or care services in the UK, something that is already having a positive effect on services.

The report recognises that volunteers are unable to replace skilled professionals, but they could prove valuable in a community sense through providing advice and support to patients. As much as 20% of the problems brought to GPs are social-related, and could therefore benefit from the aid of volunteers.

Ways in which volunteering helps GPs

Some of the ways in which volunteering helps GPs can include:

  • Helping out with administration at general practices, including providing clinic support and handling paperwork.
  • Co-location of volunteer-led community services within a GP practice to provide health education and support services.
  • ‘Social prescribing’ whereby doctors refer patients to volunteers who can provide services such as support and advice from a social point of view.
  • Community-centred general practice where patients are provided with both medical and social support.

Hurdles which could hinder the use of volunteering to help GPs

For many practices, getting volunteering schemes launched is the most difficult element of the process. However, through working with local volunteering and community groups, closer links can be established. These relationships will need to be developed in order for the plans to take off, which will require work in advance to build better links.

Confidentiality is another concern with having volunteers help GPs, with the transfer of information needing consideration. Skills and experience will also need to be considered for certain roles, and there might also need to be a time requirement to ensure that the right levels of service can be maintained.

Recruitment could also be an issue that will need ongoing support and consideration. This could require additional input and responsibilities from practices, which will also help to ensure that volunteers are happy and satisfied in their roles.

Despite the concerns that exist around having volunteers help GP practices, case studies in the report so far show the results as being positive. Volunteers have been shown to be able to provide GPs with essential support, showing that innovative practices to boost GP services can be used to good effect. Could more practices adopt this initiative with the aim of boosting patient services?

For GPs, there are a number of solutions to help cope with the growing patient demand. Out of hours services are just one example that provides patients with accessible care at a time that suits them, while also tackling ongoing concerns around doctor wellbeing. For more information on out of hours practice, read our blog, or take a look at our current job vacancies.