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Every one of them a hero! ROBERT HARDMAN joined a hospital help force

Join the hospital helpforce 

Whatever your skills or experience, you can make a valued and lasting impact. 

You will join the volunteers working in hospitals or with organisations that support the NHS, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, Marie Curie, British Red Cross, and others. 

Join us by pledging your time in 2019 at and clicking on the ‘pledge now’ box. 

Thank you – and welcome aboard! 

Pam Hearne is looking pretty cheerful, all things considered. The previous day, her car collided with a van on the way home from the chemist and the 85-year-old was flung against her steering wheel when her airbag failed to activate.

Now, on her second day in the observation ward of the emergency department at Surrey’s Frimley Park Hospital, she is in a considerable amount of pain. But she is in good spirits, not least because of the chap with the friendly face who shows up every now and then to see if she needs anything.

Roger Groocock moves on down the ward to see Mary Charlton, 89, who is also smiling. She has been admitted after a fall at her home and the doctors are worried about the fracture to her wrist. But she feels well looked-after – both by the medical staff but also by this cheerful soul bringing her a cup of tea. ‘I’m here on my own and it’s so lovely to have someone to talk to,’ says Mary as Roger appears.

The nurses are all delighted to see him, too. ‘He’s gorgeous!’ Sister Jean Parsons whispers behind Roger’s back with a big grin as she gets on with her duties.

Roger has no medical qualifications whatsoever. He is a 75-year-old retired bank manager who used to run the Basingstoke branch of NatWest and simply wants to ‘do his bit’. Yet he is making a material difference to the overall atmosphere of one of the most stressful places some of us will ever see – the A&E department of a major hospital.

And he regards the few hours he spends each week as a hospital volunteer here at Frimley Park as among the most rewarding and life-enhancing aspects of his life. ‘Most of the people in here didn’t expect to be here when they woke up this morning and I love talking to them,’ he explains.

Rosie Perry, 44, says the same. She decided to volunteer following the sudden death of her teenage son Charlie from a very rare genetic disorder a year ago.

Helping hand: Volunteer Tony Edwards chats to Yvonne Searle during her stay in hospital

Helping hand: Volunteer Tony Edwards chats to Yvonne Searle during her stay in hospital

‘He always wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to honour him in some way,’ she said. At first, she had no idea how she would cope with returning to volunteer on the same unit that Charlie had been admitted to.

Now she is a devoted part of the team with whom she works for a few hours each week, whether it is making tea or making beds or making friends. Right now, she is checking on Alfie Williams, 13, who has just broken his arm playing football. ‘I’ve been surprised by just how much I love it here,’ she explains.

Volunteers such as Rosie and Roger are not only making life that little bit more comfortable for some of the patients but they are also freeing up valuable time for the medical professionals to get on with their jobs. In other words, this is a win, win, win situation. It is one that could apply to any of us, regardless of our age, our profession or our background.

That is why, today, the Daily Mail is proud to launch the most ambitious call for volunteers since the 2012 Olympics, if not the Second World War.

With support stretching right across the public health spectrum – from the unions to the highest echelons of the NHS to the hard-pressed doctors and matrons on every ward in the land – we make this very special Christmas appeal to our famously generous readers: this year, why not think about offering that most precious of gifts – your time?

Being in hospital can be a bewildering and miserable experience for many patients. Being a frontline medical professional can be intensely trying. Yet many of us can, in a small way, make things easier for both sides – and enrich our own lives at the same time.

For some of those I meet along the way, volunteering really has had a transformative effect on their entire outlook on life. For some younger helpers, it is a first step on the road to a possible career in medicine. For most of those involved, it is simply very satisfying to be of use.

And, crucially, there is now a major movement under way to establish a clear and co-ordinated nationwide pathway to finding the right hospital volunteering opportunity for everyone.

There is, course, nothing new about public-spirited individuals helping out in hospitals. People have been doing that for centuries.

Lean on me: Janet Jones with Janet Murton

Lean on me: Janet Jones with Janet Murton

Up until now, though, it has tended to be a somewhat random process. Some hospitals have had brilliant volunteers organised through much-loved institutions such as the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) and British Red Cross, which have been channelling goodwill to good causes for years. Some hospitals, however, have had no volunteers at all. With little to link all these disparate groups, the overall effect has often been hit-and-miss.

Now, however, a new social movement called Helpforce is changing all that. With a small, strategic core team it connects hospitals, volunteers and voluntary groups with dramatic results.

Best practice is now pooled instantly and training is shared. Volunteer numbers are shooting up. At the same time, doctors, nurses and their managers are discovering that civilian support is not merely good for local public relations. A well-run team of volunteers can help deliver substantial benefits for patients.

Just this month, Helpforce organised the first national awards for health volunteers, with winners scattered all over the country. The winner of the Outstanding Volunteering Team of the Year prize was Frimley Park so I have decided to make that my first port of call.

The hospital is vast, the flagship of a local NHS trust with three hospitals and 9,000 staff – more than twice the entire workforce of, say, Harrods. The queue for the car park stretches around the block. Yet, inside, there is a palpable sense of calm.

We are routinely warned that the NHS is in crisis but this place, though buzzing, seems well under control. It certainly helps that staff are now supported by a team of more than 500 volunteers, most of them giving a morning or afternoon each week. Whether you calculate all that goodwill in terms of cups of tea or freed-up nursing staff, it is a substantial contribution. The volunteers all come under the thoroughly professional auspices of a manager whose job is to get the best out of them all.

Mike Stone, voluntary services manager, has a simple target: to recruit one volunteer for every bed in the hospital – and there are 1,200 of those. ‘It’s very simple. It’s about improving the patient experience,’ he says. ‘Everything else follows on from that. It means that there is someone there who can finish that game of Scrabble when a nurse cannot.’ Most people in hospital, he points out, are elderly. A ward can be a lonely place for a lot of them and if you can help to lift the mood of the patients, it will rub off on everyone else. Mike has developed a broad range of volunteering options, well aware that certain challenges appeal to very different people.

Giving: Rosie Perry, with Shane Perera, loves helping out

Giving: Rosie Perry, with Shane Perera, loves helping out

Some people might be mustard keen to do their bit but might feel uncomfortable about, say, spoon-feeding a person with dementia. On the other hand, they might be very happy running errands to and from the pharmacy or guiding bewildered members of the public around the labyrinthine layout of a big hospital like Frimley Park or simply conducting patient surveys by the door.

In the course of the day, I meet Janet Jones and Elaine Mayhew, both pensioners, both widows and both keen to help the hospital that tended their late husbands so well. Neither wants to work on a ward, however. ‘I’m still in bereavement and I’m not sure how I’d cope with that,’ says Janet. Instead, like Elaine, she prefers to help out as a ‘wayfinder’ or guide.

Tony Edwards, 75, on the other hand, loves being on a ward at the hospital that saved his life after he was laid low with peritonitis. He has also been treated for cancer here.

He devotes himself to the stroke recovery or ‘step down’ unit. Whereas the volunteers in A&E might see different patients every day, Tony often sees the same patients from one week to the next. He helped one man with his recovery for six months.

‘I just talked to him, encouraged him with his tongue exercises, that sort of thing,’ says the former sales director. ‘And I was here to wave him off when he went home. For as long my health allows, I want to keep on doing this.’

Every volunteer is checked on the usual security databases and given very clear training. No one is permitted to perform any function that requires medical expertise. Even basic but specific tasks such as feeding a patient require a formal training process first. And new programmes are being developed all the time as Helpforce circulates procedures developed at different hospitals.

Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett, the philanthropist and former head of Marie Curie who founded Helpforce two years ago, points to a scheme in Norfolk where a hospital has created a network of ‘settling in’ volunteers to assist patients returning to their homes.

‘Ultimately, hospitals are all about creating more free beds to treat patients as soon as possible but staff are reluctant to send people home if they live alone and haven’t got help,’ he says.

The ‘settling in service’ draws on volunteers – many of them retired nurses or social workers – who wait at a patient’s home to receive them back from hospital, help them get the heating on, fill up the fridge, and generally keep an eye on them.

It is hardly rocket science and a number of hospitals already have similar programmes. What is needed now is to extend this network of helpers and create more empty beds in hospital. This is where the Daily Mail’s Helpforce campaign can help.

For many volunteers, it is not merely about being useful. It is about putting something back after a deeply traumatic personal experience. That is what motivates Rosie Perry at Frimley. It is also what drives Sue Embleton, 68, at York Hospital.

'Lovely to talk to': Mary Charlton says Roger Groocock brightens up A&E (pictured at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey)

‘Lovely to talk to’: Mary Charlton says Roger Groocock brightens up A&E (pictured at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey)

‘Two years ago, I lost my daughter, Amanda, to cervical cancer. The staff here were fantastic and I thought: “What can I do to say thank you?”,’ she says.

Every week, she helps out in the outpatients’ department, whether it’s taking people to their blood tests or doing the photocopying. ‘It’s changed my life because it’s a reason for getting up in the morning,’ says Sue. ‘It makes you feel appreciated.’

As in Surrey, so in Yorkshire, the stories are the same, as is the enthusiasm. Retired financial adviser Martin Tunney, 58, says he just wanted to ‘put something back’. Now a few hours in York’s A&E is one of the highlights of his week. ‘I have the nice-to-do jobs like talking to people, not the medical must-do jobs, which we leave to the doctors and nurses,’ he says.

Gina Newton, 73, is one of York’s ‘dining companions’ on the stroke rehabilitation ward, helping those unable to feed themselves. ‘Seeing an empty plate, especially if it’s someone who hasn’t had many visitors, gives me so much pleasure,’ she says.

Although many of those who volunteer are retired, a lot are only just embarking on their careers. Back in Frimley, I drop in on one of Mike Stone’s volunteer introduction sessions and two dozen people have turned up, half of whom must be in their twenties and thirties. Natasha White, 22, a recruitment consultant from Farnborough, tells me that she has already decided she’d like to work with the elderly.

One who is already a valued volunteer is Max Whitfield, 18. A doctor’s son, he is determined to be a doctor himself one day and views this as a logical first step.

‘I think I have an affinity with people and I hope I’m having a positive impact,’ says Max.

He does whatever is needed on the respiratory ward for a few hours each week. ‘It might be a chat or it might be helping with the crossword,’ he says. ‘I dare say it’s not for everyone but I just love it.’

That is the recurring sentiment that I hear from every single volunteer. As Sue Embleton reflects: ‘It’s actually given me a bit of my life back.’

This Christmas, look ahead to 2019 and imagine how, for just a few hours each week, you really could be making a difference not just to a lot of other people but also to yourself. Now, wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift?

Now here’s how you can give your hospital a helping hand

Why does the NHS need volunteers?

Volunteers can help provide better experiences for patients, and free up time for healthcare workers to focus on delivering the incredible work they’ve been trained to do. And while there are thousands of volunteers carrying out vital work in the NHS, there is so much more we can do. That’s where the Join the Hospital Helpforce campaign comes in – the aim is to harness the power of dedicated and caring volunteers to create a more compassionate care system for all of us.

What is Helpforce?

It’s a charity that works with the NHS, healthcare workers and the public to promote the benefits of volunteering – helping to expand the range and quality of volunteer roles, and the number of volunteers involved in our NHS.

Are volunteers replacing staff roles?

No. They provide extra help that wouldn’t be covered by a staff role. NHS Trusts need volunteers as they provide a valuable support role to busy staff and patients who are going through a difficult time. Volunteers can make the difference to someone’s day by providing simple but significant support. Many volunteers enjoy it so much they take up employment in the NHS, helping to fill the health service’s 100,000 job vacancies.

Helping hand: Volunteer Max Whitfield, 18, with healthcare assistant Bryony McGovern at Frimley Park hospital in Surrey

Helping hand: Volunteer Max Whitfield, 18, with healthcare assistant Bryony McGovern at Frimley Park hospital in Surrey

What is the minimum number of hours I have to commit to?

Helpforce is asking people to commit to three consecutive hours a week for six months, or one day a month for six months. NHS staff say that for volunteers to make a difference, they need to commit to at least this time as this gives them continuity and a reliable source of help. You can, of course, ask to do more hours and for a longer period of time.

Do I need particular skills or qualifications?

No. NHS organisations are looking for volunteers who are willing to learn. While all your skills will be useful, you will be provided with training. If you have any specific skills, please note these on your pledge when you sign up.

Is there an age limit?

Join the hospital helpforce 

Whatever your skills or experience, you can make a valued and lasting impact. 

You will join the volunteers working in hospitals or with organisations that support the NHS, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, Marie Curie, British Red Cross, and others. 

Join us by pledging your time in 2019 at and clicking on the ‘pledge now’ box. 

Thank you – and welcome aboard! 

Helpforce hasn’t put a maximum age as there are many examples of older volunteers doing great work. The minimum age is 16. However, not all NHS organisations are able to take volunteers until the age of 18 due to their own policies. If you are aged between 16 and 18, Helpforce will do its best to place you with a local NHS organisation but opportunities are more limited. Youth groups #iwill and the Pears Foundation are together aiming to increase the number of volunteering opportunities for young people – visit for details.

I have mobility issues, can I apply?

Yes. The NHS can accommodate volunteers with mobility issues and/or long-term conditions.

Can I choose which hospital I work in?

In the first instance, Helpforce will try to match you with an NHS organisation near to where you live. If your local NHS organisation doesn’t have capacity, Helpforce will – with your permission – pass your details to organisations such as the Royal Voluntary Service, Marie Curie and the British Red Cross, as they bring volunteers to work across many parts of the NHS. Some trusts hold their own waiting lists and you could be added to those if you prefer.

Are all UK hospitals covered?

Not all NHS organisations are able to take volunteers. Helpforce will work with those that have volunteer schemes, and are recruiting.

Can I volunteer if I live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Yes – Helpforce is welcoming volunteers from across the UK.

Am I guaranteed a place?

Helpforce can’t guarantee that every person who pledges will get a place, but will endeavour to place as many people with their local NHS organisation as possible. The majority of the volunteer roles Helpforce expects to be filled through this campaign will take place in hospitals, but many volunteers will be placed in community healthcare settings to support NHS organisations.

How do I sign up?

Visit and fill in the pledge form. Once you’ve completed it, you should hear back immediately with a thank you email, then again in late January or early February once Helpforce have matched you with an NHS organisation. If you don’t hear by the end of February, please go to the Frequently Asked Questions section of the website.

What will the hospital want to know about me?

Once you have been matched to an NHS organisation, you will be asked to meet its volunteer co-ordinator. They will want to find out about you, your experience, interests and motivation to volunteer. You will be asked to fill in an application form.

If you both agree that you want to proceed, you will have simple health and criminal record checks – these are called an Occupational Health check and a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

An Occupational Health check helps to ensure that volunteers are safe and able to work in the healthcare environment – it is usually very simple and straightforward. A DBS check enables employers to access the criminal records of current and potential employees to confirm whether they are suitable to work with vulnerable adults and children. It is a legal requirement and can take some time to complete.

You may also be required to provide a reference. Your data will be fully protected throughout.

What training will I get?

Volunteers can help provide better experiences for patients, and free up time for healthcare workers to focus on delivering the incredible work they’ve been trained to do

Volunteers can help provide better experiences for patients, and free up time for healthcare workers to focus on delivering the incredible work they’ve been trained to do

Training varies between NHS organisations, but all your training will help keep you safe, and give you the skills to make you feel confident when volunteering on a busy ward with staff, patients and their families. A training session would typically include some or all of the following elements: health and safety, fire training, equality and diversity, safeguarding, conflict resolution, information governance, infection control. Training will vary based on the role you are taking up.

Are uniforms and expenses provided?

Volunteers usually wear T-shirts or uniforms, provided by the NHS organisation, that identify them as volunteers. Helpforce recommends you discuss this with the volunteer co-ordinator when you have been placed. Each NHS organisation has its own expenses policy – again, this is something you should discuss with the volunteer co-ordinator.

How long will it take to process my request?

Helpforce is keen that you start volunteering as soon as possible, but the process may take several months. Once the charity has put your NHS organisation in touch with you it can take up to three months, and in some cases six months, before you start. This is mainly due to the time it takes to make the necessary checks, and complete the relevant training.

Is there a deadline?

You can choose to volunteer for the NHS at any time, but this campaign is being supported during December and will close at the start of January. If it isn’t a good time for you to volunteer but you may want to in the future, you can get in touch with your local hospital or other NHS organisation at a later date. You can also look at volunteering opportunities at

I’m having trouble with the online form. How else can I make contact?

Due to the volume of pledges that Helpforce is expecting to process, it is encouraging everyone to make contact through the online form. If you are having problems with the form, it may be helpful to seek assistance from a friend or relative.

Who can I contact if I have further questions?

Please go to the Frequently Asked Questions web page ( The ‘speech bubble’ icon will take you to one of Helpforce’s ambassadors who will be happy to help.

I can’t commit to a regular time. Is there another way I can help?

You can donate to Helpforce – the charity will use all the money raised to help support hospitals in the creation of new volunteering roles, and bring more volunteers to their wards. There are two ways you can donate: via the donate button at, or by sending a cheque. Please make it out to Helpforce Community Trust and post it to:


S90, South Wing,

Somerset House,

The Strand, London WC2R 1LA


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