Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett, 64, set up Helpforce two years ago
Two years ago philanthropist Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett, 64, had a dream – to bring an army of volunteers into the NHS. Today – thanks to warmhearted Daily Mail readers – that dream has become a reality.
I am utterly humbled by the warmth, the generosity and the sheer determination to be a force for good of the great British public. An incredible 30,000 volunteers are about to transform the lives of thousands of our most vulnerable, needy people.
Together they will fill that crucial gap between what patients need and what they rightly expect.
And in doing so, as I know from my own experience as a volunteer, we are going to improve our own lives too. I can’t think of a more exciting way to start 2019.
Of course I knew the Daily Mail talks to the heart of Britain – but I didn’t realise just what a big heart that is. When I started this initiative with the Daily Mail to recruit volunteers, I dared to hope that 7,000 or possibly even 8,000 readers might volunteer.
Instead almost four times that number have signed up. In reaching 30,000 volunteers, we have achieved a 38 per cent increase on the number already volunteering in the NHS.
The initiative has seen Daily Mail readers sign up in their droves to help the NHS over Christmas
Scores of famous faces have given their support to the campaign which has seen over 30,000 volunteers sign up
What makes it so unique is that this is the first ever Christmas Appeal asking for time not money. It has sparked what I can only describe as a social movement for people to get stuck in.
Everyone’s enthusiasm has left me floored. The call has been answered by people aged 18 to over 80. There are literally thousands of millennials – the so called ‘Snowflake Generation’ – volunteering because they’ve seen the need when they’ve visited elderly relatives in hospital.
I am convinced there is a change of mood in this country – a need to get more involved in public service. Instead of being spoon-fed, we want to take back control of the NHS and help to make this wonderful organisation run more smoothly.
I have been amazed by how people from every walk of life have got behind the campaign.
Kate Garraway helps out by joining the tea trolley doing the rounds with volunteer Guides Henry and Loretta at Whittington Hospital in North London
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall hailed it as a ‘call to arms’.
Samantha Cameron wrote very movingly about how the volunteers she met when her son was ill made a difference not just to his short life but to the whole family’s. Charlie Gard’s mother said the same.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, J K Rowling, Rupert Everett. The names go on and on – testament to how this campaign has struck a chord throughout the country.
I look back at the moment two years ago when I was sitting in a traffic jam with my wife, Jules, and realised I had to do something to help improve the NHS I loved so much.
As Chairman of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital I was acutely aware of how crazily busy the staff were. Numbers of patients were growing every year but funds were static. Clinical staff long to comfort anxious families or sit with dying patients but they simply don’t have the time.
Rupert Everett photographed with the NHS volunteers at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London
Then I thought about my 12 years as Chief Executive of the Marie Curie Trust when volunteers contributed so much to the charity – and got so much out of doing so. As our wonderful volunteers are about to find out, you really do get out of life what you put in.
I came up with a name, ploughed in some money (the most I’ve ever spent apart from on a house) and in December 2016 Helpforce was born. And now, thanks to Daily Mail readers, together we are about to transform the face of the NHS.
I know I have got back in spades all that I have put in. And I am convinced volunteers will do so too.
There are so many exciting new initiatives. I hope one day soon volunteers will accompany patients who need support to GP appointments, outpatient visits and hospital stays – right the way across the patient journey.
I am hugely excited about meeting as many volunteers as possible. In fact my dream is to bring everyone together one day soon so we can all celebrate the work we’ve done.
I suspect we might need Wembley Stadium. But what a celebration it will be.
Claudia Winkelman making tea for the nurses with Olivia Lambert ‘staff nurse’ and Emily Eastwood ‘nurse in charge’