Volunteers make a valuable contribution to all areas of the NHS, including occupational therapy. However, it’s clear in many areas that there is a need for more structured guidance as to what the relationship between these valuable helpers and paid employees should be. For this reason, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) has helped to launch a new charter.
Julia Scott, chief executive of the RCOT, said: “Across the NHS in England many occupational therapists work with volunteers on a daily basis and, with the number of volunteers predicted to rise in the future, this charter provides a set of guidelines which, whilst recognising the important contribution they make, provides clarity on the support they can be asked to provide.”
With around 78,000 people volunteering each year, it is clear there was a need for the charter. While many of these helpers perform non-medical tasks like keeping patients company or providing directions at a hospital, there is still a need for guidance to avoid wires getting crossed.
The RCOT worked alongside UNISON and Community Interest Company Helpforce, as well as several NHS bodies, to write the ‘Charter to strengthen relations between the Helpforce programme and staff in the National Health Service (England)’. It is based around four key principles.
The first of these is that volunteers will not undermine the roles of existing NHS personnel, with essential health and care tasks always being undertaken by paid employees. To aid with this, the second principle states that volunteers will always wear uniforms or badges distinguishing them from employees, and won’t be included in staffing counts.
The third core principle is that NHS trade unions will engage in how volunteers will be deployed and used, with the primary considerations being patient safety and confidentiality. Finally, the fourth principle is that advice provided to Helpforce volunteers will match that found in the charter, so everybody involved is on the same page.
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
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