Communities, individuals and families are now under pressure due to the ongoing pandemic on a scale not seen in living memory.
During the crisis, local resilience forums, local authorities and the NHS are fighting to protect and treat those in the shielded group and others who are particularly vulnerable and most at risk from COVID-19.
The size and impact of the emergency continues to require an equally scaled-up response. As the pandemic began, more than 750,000 people stepped forward almost immediately to become NHS Volunteer Responders, a scheme being delivered by Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) - one of the largest and oldest voluntary charities in England.
The number who volunteered is staggering.
When the Government launched a call for 250,000 volunteers through the GoodSam App commissioned by the RVS, the target was reached within 24 hours. When that target was upped to 750,000 that number was soon surpassed. Of those, 606,000 are now in the pool of people available to help and support the NHS and the care sector. These volunteers are matched via the GoodSAM app with members of their community who need support to stay well at home.
Director of volunteering at RVS Rebecca Kennelly’s message to local authorities is to remind them that this ‘trusted, national database of volunteers’ is available to support their emergency response. The help on offer to councils and local resilience forums comprises community response volunteers who will help people with grocery shopping and collecting prescriptions and a second role for volunteers who will make ‘check in and chat’ phone calls.
Speaking exclusively to The MJ, one example she gives of the type of referrals that can be made would involve ‘social workers, where they’ve got people living in the community that may have a care plan, who may benefit from a community responder picking up their shopping. That absolutely is an appropriate referral.’
Her message to local authorities is clear: ‘We’re open and have a pool of people that can help and a dynamic digital platform that can in real time match people who need help with a volunteer. I would ask you to have a conversation with us and explore with us how you can best support those vulnerable people who need help.’
While the technology behind the app is GoodSAM’s, ‘everything comes through us because we are the delivery partners - we commissioned the technology that basically makes this happen’, she added.
As the crisis evolves, with the lockdown relaxing to a slight degree, RVS is particularly promoting the ‘check in and chat’ element of the scheme. Ms Kennelly said: ‘It’s called ‘check in and chat’ and it is what it says on the tin. The person calls you for a check in, to see if you’re ok. And it’s a chat. It’s a low level way to say to people that while food and medication are important, actually talking to someone, that human contact, is really important.
‘As the lockdown relaxes and family members go back to work and have less time, I think it’s important that local authorities think about how they can refer a lot of people they are working with, because check in and chat will make a measureable difference as they go forward.’
She wants to make it clear to local resilience forums and councils that NHS Volunteer Responders ‘are here, we’re ready to help, we’re happy to have conversations’.
She added: ‘Everyone will want reassurance around governance, safeguarding and data. We know that we need to reassure all of you about that – and we can come on webinars to offer the level of reassurance needed that all of those structures and systems have been thought about and are in place.’
The scheme has the data by each district council on how many volunteers are in their local area, she stressed. ‘If there’s nervousness about capacity or a need for extra capacity then local authorities can come to us and we can tell them what we’ve got.’
There is also an ability to bulk refer volunteers. ‘Providing you can pool your information into an Excel spreadsheet we can then drag and drop the spreadsheet into a part of your portal and bulk upload referrals rather than go into the referral portal and do each one uniquely.’
The RVS has also ‘listened to local authorities who said well actually if we are going to use the system to underpin our statutory duty we need to know when a volunteer has been successful with a task that we’ve asked them to do’.
‘So we built enhanced ability for the super-user who has a portal to interrogate the data and be able to see what has been delivered, and the first name of the volunteer who has delivered that, so that if there are any concerns you have a route straight back to our safeguarding team, that will highlight any concerns you have.’
The natural way of embracing the scheme is via the work that local the resilience forums are doing, she added. ‘We’ve been proactively trying to go out and enable local resilience forums to use the scheme. We’ve been doing a piece of work with the London resilience hub, and co-ordinating how district councils use the system, creating super-users and all of that kind of thing.’
Her message in conclusion is: ‘If you have local things going on and you don’t need an NHS Volunteer Responder that’s fine. What we’ve done is we’ve built an army that can be deployed when it’s needed.’
For more details of the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme click here