Headlines: September 2nd, 2008

Using volunteers to deliver some public sector services is good for the nation’s health according to new research. The study from the University of Wales, Lampeter, shows that volunteering can mean people live longer and is good for their health and well-being and for the people they help.

The study found that volunteering had a positive effect on people’s self-esteem, led to a reduction in hospital visits and could even combat depression, stress and pain. Dr Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, the agency that commissioned the research, said that through controlled trials the study had proved what the agency had long suspected.

Researchers found volunteering also had a positive impact on a range of factors that affected those using health services. These included social support, disease management and the adoption of healthier lifestyles as well as compliance with medical treatment and relationships with health care professionals.

Dr Rachel Casiday from the Department of Voluntary Sector Studies at Lampeter, who led the study, said it was the first time any attempt had been made to bring together such data and added that it showed a clear link between volunteering and good health, both for volunteers and health service users. The research team reviewed 87 studies, including 15 controlled trials and Dr Cassiday said, “Our findings suggest that having volunteers delivering certain services was beneficial to health. But we did not look at the question of whether these services are better delivered by volunteers or
paid staff.”

Only one study that was reviewed by the Lampeter team showed a negative effect of volunteering. Older people felt less satisfied when tended by volunteers rather than paid employees.