London’s vaccination volunteer programme4 Feb 2021
The vaccination programme currently underway in London requires volunteer involvement at a level not seen since the 2012 Olympics. Time to Spare and London Plus have developed a vaccination volunteer database to support, coordinate and manage the programme.
Volunteers are central to the vaccination efforts. As an example, the mother of one of us received her first Covid-19 vaccine dose at Central Middlesex Hospital in north-west London recently. This was the Pfizer vaccine which requires a short period afterwards in which patients are monitored for possible side effects. Like all those receiving the vaccine in the hospital, she was ushered in by a volunteer and given a sticker showing the time the vaccination was administered. After being monitored for a period, another volunteer checked the time on the sticker, politely removed it and said she was free to go. She left full of praise for NHS staff and volunteers alike.
Such scenes are taking place across London as the vaccination programme is scaled up. The programme is huge, for the NHS and for volunteering alike. In terms of volunteers, it will require a mobilisation possibly on the same scale as the 70,000 used in the 2012 Olympics.
Recruiting vaccination volunteers
This mobilisation is not coordinated centrally. Each individual vaccination site is expected to find its own volunteers.
The NHS currently lists 180 vaccination sites in London, a number which is still rising. While some hospital trusts and sites have long-running volunteer programmes, volunteers are also being deployed into places with no prior volunteer management experience, such as GP practices and local pharmacies. Mass vaccination sites, too, are having to mobilise and manage large numbers from scratch.
As well as through hospitals’ own databases, volunteers are likely to come directly through local charities, via local authorities, from national charities like St John’s Ambulance or the Red Cross, and NHS volunteers recruited through the GoodSam app (set up by the charity Royal Voluntary Service).
A core part of the local response is volunteer centres. Many of London’s 32 boroughs have such a centre. These recruit, support and sometimes manage volunteers. They played an important role in the first lockdown — arranging food deliveries, managing the collections of prescriptions and setting up befriending services. The same organisations are now providing volunteers to help with vaccination.
With such a large need for volunteers, a wide range of sources, and a stretched NHS inexperienced in managing volunteers on this scale or at such speed, things could easily go wrong. Two issues have already emerged:
- There is no list or directory of requests for volunteers to support the vaccination programme in London.
This makes it hard to know whether requests are being met and by who.
- Some parts of the NHS are looking for volunteers through more than one route.
This is leading to duplication of efforts to supply volunteers.
Vaccination volunteer database
To overcome these challenges, London Plus has worked to bring together the volunteer centres and enlisted software company Time to Spare to develop a database and management tool to support the vaccination volunteer push in London.
The vaccination volunteer database should foster greater coordination through the sharing of information to avoid duplication, improve understanding of gaps in local volunteering needs, and manage volumes better.
The platform enables three crucial things to be done:
- NHS bodies can post a request for volunteers to help with vaccinations.
- Volunteering organisations can record a response to this request.
- Everyone is able to see where there are requests, who has responded, what gaps remain. Volunteering organisations can respond to requests and provide volunteers.
Once a request is logged, the local volunteer centre in the borough is notified and will respond. This ensures an efficient response from local groups who are often already providing large numbers of volunteers and can speedily mobilise more. If this is not possible, national volunteering groups can step in and help (such as through the VCS Emergencies Partnership which includes national as well as local organisations). NHS volunteers is an option too.
The platform also provides a way for volunteering groups to log requests they receive directly from the NHS, so data on these can be captured and the response tracked. If enough data is captured and recorded, a comprehensive record can be developed of the demand, supply and use of vaccination volunteers in London.
It is unrealistic to expect 100% of activity to be recorded. There is a lot of fragmented vaccination volunteering — such as the use of local community transport, calls by councillors or individual GP surgeries — much of which will remain below the radar.
If we can uncover and record 80% or more of volunteering activity, it will make the process of coordinating this vast effort easier.
It will also leave a lasting legacy in terms of enriching our understanding of volunteering in the capital. By fostering volunteering in this way, the endeavour contributes to the “Building strong communities” mission to support the capital’s longer-term recovery from the pandemic, one of nine agreed by the London Recovery Board co-chaired by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and head of London Councils, Georgia Gould.
We are well on track. Almost 30 organisations who work with volunteers across London are signed up and using the database. This covers the large bulk of volunteering infrastructure in the capital, including every volunteer centre. More organisations are signing up. Over 6,000 volunteer deployments are recorded in the database, just two weeks since it started. Data from the St John’s Ambulance and NHS Volunteers, who are mobilising large numbers to support the NHS across the country, will also be uploaded regularly. The platform has the support of the British Red Cross and the VCS Emergencies Partnership, as well as the backing of the GLA.
The vaccination programme will need large numbers of volunteers for much of this year, and perhaps beyond. The voluntary and community sector in London is making a concerted effort to help. The sector has the relationships, the expertise and the capabilities to support this marathon of sprints.
The new platform will help direct this power to where it is most needed and provide valuable insights into this huge effort. Its value, to the NHS as well as volunteering bodies, will grow as even more organisations get involved.