We know that our communities here in the far west of Cornwall are beyond fortunate to have so many people who volunteer to help others.  Volunteering, particularly by the active retired, is what keeps our huge number of voluntary organisations and groups going, and provides so much support to those who need it. 

 However, there is a limit to what the volunteer workforce can do.  Volunteers, by their very nature, choose to volunteer, and they can also choose to stop whenever they wish; for most it is age and infirmity which calls time on them. 

 There is also a growing reliance on the voluntary sector to provide labour in what were previously paid posts.  Where once we called an ambulance in an emergency, we might now have a volunteer First Responder arrive to help us.  Where once we were discharged from hospital and received visits from district nurses, or a care package from social services, we might now have a volunteer come to look after us in our home.  Where once we had treatment from a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist to get us moving again, we might now be asked to attend a group in a community hall run by non-professionals.   

 Undoubtedly the NHS and Social Care are both in crisis, with growing numbers of frail and elderly people in particular to care for, but with inadequate budgets.  They also carry a huge list of vacancies, where they simply can’t recruit the staff, whether these are doctors, paramedics, nurses, allied professionals or home carers.  We now learn that the government is planning to fast-track pharmacists and paramedics to become doctors, in an attempt to ease the doctor shortage.  So we quite understand why they would look longingly at the voluntary sector to plug the gaps. 

 Our concern is that the pool of volunteers is also limited.  Furthermore, volunteers can’t be expected to take on roles and responsibilities which are properly the remit of professionals who have trained to do these jobs.  Volunteers can find themselves out of their depth, with all the resultant stress or injury which can follow; and the people they are looking after can also be put at risk.  A recent advert in the local press sought volunteers who might have little time, qualifications or experience, but with ‘minimal’ training could help in people’s homes, and even get paid for doing it.  This may be well intentioned, but it may create as many problems as it is designed to solve, and the losers may be the very people who need caring for. 

 Yes, we are proud of our volunteering tradition, and we applaud the army of volunteers in our communities.  If you, reading this, would like to volunteer, we know you will be welcomed with open arms.  But we should all beware of taking volunteers for granted, or expecting them to take on far more than they should.  For proper health and social care in this county, we need experienced professional staff who can respond promptly and appropriately to all our care needs, using our volunteer force to provide the extras rather than core services.  Let’s all do what we can to make this a reality.