marciareadMarcia Read, managing director of independent healthcare consultants Finchers, looks at how the NHS can harness the Olympic Legacy:

As life gets back to normal and we learn how to live without the sports fest, general bonhomie and national pride generated by London 2102 there is much talk about 'Legacy'.

There are numerous articles in the national and specialist press about how we should use the impetus started by our elite athletes to encourage increased physical activity and fitness in the population as a whole. As the Health Services Journal states in this week's issue, 'we all know that participation in sport and physical activity is good for health and reduces healthcare costs'. The article refers to the NHS London document published in 2009. 'Go London: An active and Healthy London for 2012 and beyond' which sets out the strategy for improving health in the Capital.

I have no doubt that tens of thousands of us who were glued to the games will now seek out ways to improve our fitness or maybe take up a new sport. This is fantastic and it will be interesting to see if there is a measurable increase in sports participation in the future. Whether this will actually save the NHS any money remains to be seen. But I believe that there is a more immediate and potentially more beneficial legacy of the home Olympics

The volunteers, or games makers as they were creatively dubbed, were the hit of London 2102. Well informed, charming and helpful - they provided practical and emotional support at every venue. These willing souls embodied the spirit of the Games, and it is the joy, the positive attitude, the generosity, kindness and commitment that needs bottling. Oh if only we could see more of these precious commodities in the public sector. Yes, of course there are many, many committed and wonderful clinicians, managers and support staff in the NHS but most of them would benefit from some extra help.

I have written previously about my reservations concerning voluntary staff within the NHS, however if the principles applied to the Olympic volunteer army were adapted for a support team throughout the public funded health sector - they could provide the positive tipping point so badly needed by our hospitals, health centres and community groups. I am fully aware that finding people prepared to give up a short period of time for a glamorous global event is very different from asking a more long term (but not full time of course) commitment to a challenging, potentially distressing but ultimately hugely rewarding cause. An NHS volunteer army - perhaps a bit like the Territorial Army that appears to work so successfully alongside the regular professionals could be mobilised where needed in cases of emergency but also provide regular backup on a day to day basis.

If the government appointed an 'NHS Volunteer Tsar' I would suggest that the rules of engagement should be as follows:

  • National network: Volunteer roles should be clearly identified and recognisable nationally. Defined and routine training programmes should be designed to avoid re-inventing the wheel and ensure consistent quality. Cost of training to be borne from the public purse.
  • Titles: There should be a recognisable title and role descriptions for these volunteers - in the same way that 'games maker' has entered our vocabulary. This title would be a badge, and possibly supported by uniform to be worn with pride.
  • Extra care layer: A variety of functions and qualifying criteria should be defined. NHS Volunteers should operate in the same way that the games makers do - enhance the 'customer' (patient) experience within a defined remit.

These volunteers must NOT replace paid staff. A variety of functions should be the roles should be created as an extra care layer and absolutely must NOT be used as a way to cut costs. Difficult to police, I agree, but the Tsar would have to find a way to monitor this.

NHS establishments should be rewarded for appropriate volunteer practices. Having worked extensively in service improvement projects - I know that the best way to change behaviours within the organisations is to reward good practice. This could be measured in the same way that tariffs are awarded for meeting targets or performance criteria.
Volunteers are like any paid workforce - badly managed they can do more harm than good. But if you can mobilise the extra care layer to support paid staff, provide additional care and practical help for patients, maybe the spirit of the games could live on where it is needed most. 

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