SPECIALIST training is being offered to volunteers in Somerset's NHS as part of a scheme to help them make careers in the health service.

Dubbed 'Volunteer to Care', the programme is designed to help combat shortages in the NHS workforce, which is currently advertising for over 100,000 vacancies.

It follows a programme to recruit volunteers during the Covid pandemic, when 11,000 volunteers went on to become NHS workers.

Speaking about Volunteer to Care, Isobel Clements, director of people services and organisational development at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Our wonderful volunteers play such an important role in the NHS, and it’s great to be able to give something back by offering them a route into a clinical career in the NHS, along with extensive training.

“With staffing pressures in the NHS more challenging than ever, we’ve needed to look at how we recruit and develop our workforce differently and this sort of initiative, along with nursing degrees apprenticeships and work experience, will hopefully encourage more people to consider working for the NHS.

“Traditionally our almost-1,000 strong team of volunteers have taken up roles such as ‘meet and greet’ and peer support at our hospitals, but this initiative will target young people in the latter years of secondary school and sixth form who are starting to think about their future career.

“One of the new areas we’re focusing as part of the initiative is providing volunteering opportunities outside of the hospital environment, such as in our community services and GP practices.”

Maeve Hully, director of volunteering at Helpforce, said: "Volunteer to Career is an important way to address one of the biggest challenges the NHS is facing: a cycle of shortages and increased pressures on staff, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“It has been such an exciting collaboration between clinicians, volunteers, service managers and patients. Watching clinical teams embrace volunteering so positively has ensured that the majority of volunteers who participated in the project have already gone on to careers in healthcare – a phenomenal result in a short period of time.

“Volunteer to Career delivers dual benefits, supporting stretched NHS services, whilst also encouraging more people to consider careers in health at a time when there is a critical need.”

Carly Schoepp, programme manager at Health Education England’s national volunteering unit, said:

“Many people volunteer in the NHS for different reasons, and some have aspirations to eventually work in the health and care. It’s vital that we think more about how we help those volunteers into their chosen career, to do so is good for the individual, for services and for patients.

Mark Newton, a volunteer who joined the trial scheme that ran in North Sedgemoor, said: “The Volunteer to Career scheme is proving to be an excellent way for me to gain practical experience and skills in my chosen field of mental health.

“I’m able to reflect on my experiences, seek guidance from professionals, and take advantage of the training and learning opportunities offered through the scheme.

“By volunteering, I have an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others, while also working towards my career goals. I would recommend joining this scheme to anyone looking for a future career within the NHS.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in the Volunteer to Career scheme, email [email protected].