The financial pressure facing NHS and social care services in England is considerable and growing. With little prospect of a major increase in their budgets, many health and social care providers are looking for ways to leverage the power of volunteers in the community, to move into the gap left by changing family structures and shrinking social care coverage.

Projects that use social action of this kind have the potential to help people stay well and independent for longer, recover from illness or injury in their own homes and improve patient experience.

The Nuffield Trust was the successful organisation selected to evaluate the impact the projects will have on reducing pressure on hospitals

A partnership between the Cabinet Office and the National Tripartite Group (Department of Health, NHS England, Trust Development Authority, Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS) and Monitor) have selected seven projects to share £2 million to use volunteer groups to help reduce pressure on hospitals over the winter period.

The projects range in approach from preventative action in the community, direct referrals from A&E staff to schemes that provide support in the home to avoid an initial admission; and working with hospital staff to identify patients ready for discharge who would benefit from targeted support to get them home safely and reduce the risk of readmission.

The Nuffield Trust was the successful organisation selected to evaluate the impact the projects will have on reducing pressure on hospitals. The project will take the form of a mixed methods evaluation combining our expertise in data linkage and quantitative methods we have used in other evaluation projects, including retrospective matched control groups.

In addition we will be conducting a qualitative research stream to understand the impact on patient experience and identify those elements of the interventions most likely to be of scale and portability to be rolled out in future social action programmes.

As part of our evaluation there will be an interim analysis issued at the beginning of 2015 with a final report on the impact of the programme due in early Summer of 2015. We would expect an appropriate version of the final report to be submitted for inclusion in a peer reviewed journal by the Autumn of 2015.

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