Skip to main content
The Big Hospital Experiment - Banner - BBC

The Big Hospital Experiment

Royal Derby Hospital enlists 14 young volunteers to provide care in a new experiment.  

About the programme

A group of young volunteers embark on a social experiment, learning to care for patients on the frontline of an NHS Trust in Britain for four weeks.

To find out more or to watch on BBC iPlayer go to the BBC programme pages 

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

A volunteer takes someone's blood pressure - The Big Hospital Experiment

Copyright: BBC

Volunteers litter-picking

What are the benefits of volunteering?

Have you ever considered becoming a volunteer? Take a look at some of the benefits and discover how you can get started...

Volunteering is often considered as a way of solving problems that we face personally or as a society. Recently, The Daily Mail has urged people to volunteer in the NHS  and to litter pick , which clearly will make a difference to society. The Government think volunteering is so important for us as individuals that as part of its flagship youth project, The National Citizenship Scheme (NCS ), young people take part in a social action activity in the hope that it encourages them to volunteer for the rest of their lives.

However, is it realistic to expect that volunteers can really have a significant impact on the organisations that they volunteer in? Additionally, can volunteers expect to benefit from their voluntary work within an organisation such as the NHS?

Why Volunteer?

Volunteers clear rubbish from a lake

Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

Many societies and groups such as youth groups and organisations in the Community and Voluntary Sector rely almost completely on volunteers to undertake their work.

Volunteering can bring a range of different benefits to an organisation, in fact many societies and groups such as youth groups and organisations in the Community and Voluntary Sector (VCS ) rely almost completely on volunteers to undertake their work. Volunteering is thought of as an altruistic activity, that is an activity which involves giving without an expectation of reward, and it is true to say that for many people this notion of giving is a major motivation for volunteering. However, volunteering can additionally bring its own rewards to the volunteer themselves.

The notion of contributing to the ‘common good’ whilst forgoing personal gain is central to the voluntary principle of individual and collective acts of giving and some volunteers find the idea that they might gain from their giving uncomfortable. Whereas, for many volunteers, the idea that they may in some way benefit from their activity, even if it is only in the sense that they live in a better society, is very important to their choice of volunteering project or activity.

The benefits of volunteering

A volunteer works for an elderly man

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation. 


The social benefits of volunteering are often linked to the altruistic motives for volunteering. Research, and experience, has shown that volunteering is a great way to meet new people and make friends. One example of potentially selfless social volunteering linked to the NHS is that of blood donation. Volunteers have been donating blood to the NHS for over 70 years. This act of giving plays a vital role in saving lives and demonstrates the significant impact relatively small altruistic acts can have. The growth of blood donation is testament to the ongoing desire for people to volunteer their time and resources. In 1946 fewer than 200,000 donations were collected whereas donors made around 1.6 million donations in 2015.


Whilst it is difficult to measure, the economic benefit of volunteering in the UK was estimated to exceed £50 Billion in 2014. Whilst debates concerning where the responsibilities of the state end and broader responsibility for social action begin, around seven in ten people have volunteered formally, that is in a through a group, club or organisation, at some point in their lives and 38% of people have volunteered in the last 12 months.

However, these statistics don’t consider that volunteering can have a positive impact upon a volunteer and therefore increase their work-related skills and their future economic contribution to society.  This is often identified as being particularly important for young people in terms of making them stand out from the crowd in a busy job market, but with so many of us working for longer and in a changing world where a job is no longer ‘for life’ we can use volunteering as an entry into a new area of employment.

Personal well-being

Whilst much focus is placed on the benefits of volunteering to the organisations with whom they volunteer and society generally, as we have highlighted already, the benefits to the individual engaged in volunteering are also important to note. According to the Mental Health Foundation volunteering can bring psychological as well as physiological benefits. When you help others, it promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation. Doing things for others helps maintain good health. Positive emotions reduce stress and boost our immune system, and in turn can protect us against disease. Finally, seeing the benefits of our volunteering, such as a happy group of young people or a clean field after a litter pick, can help us feel satisfied in a job well done. So much so that many people who research volunteering challenge the idea of altruism, as the act of helping makes us feel good and therefore can not really be said to be truly altruistic.

In turn, a population with better psychological and physiological health will make fewer calls on public resources such as the NHS which will financially benefit the country. There will also be fewer sick days taken, thus impacting positively on organisations economic productivity.

Diversity of volunteering opportunities

Woman browsing shelf of files

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The NHS and associated charity groups offer a wide diversity of volunteering opportunities. A recent search of opportunities within one health board produced the following diverse range of voluntary roles:

  • Pharmacy Assistant
  • Endoscopy Administrator
  • League of Friends Tea Trolley/Bar

Volunteering Additional Resources

Three women point at a laptop screen

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Volunteering opportunities

The Do-it website:  A comprehensive source of volunteering opportunities in the UK, which can be searched by postcode and sector. A search will return lists of relevant sector volunteering opportunities within the geographical area you provided. 

The #iwill website:  A resource for young adults looking to volunteer.

Careers Guidance

OU Careers website 

Sign up for access to free OU resources here

Meet the experts...

Sheila CounihanLecturer in Nursing - School of Health, Wellbeing & Social Care NursingVIEW FULL PROFILE
Sheila CounihanLecturer in Nursing - School of Health, Wellbeing & Social Care Nursing

As a dual qualified nurse (Adult and Mental Health) with an MSc in Learning Disabilities (Mental Health), Sheila's career in nursing practice and education spans over 41 years. Throughout her clinical career, her specialist focus was the healthcare of people who have learning disabilities. She also worked with many other patient groups including adults, older people and adolescents in medical, surgical and mental health settings within hospitals as well as in the community.

Stephen HarrisonStaff Tutor, ECYS - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & SportVIEW FULL PROFILE
Stephen HarrisonStaff Tutor, ECYS - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport

Stephen's professional background is in informal and community education, working with children, young people and adults in a variety of settings. Since 1997 he has been predominantly involved in the field of professional education, teaching and managing Undergraduate programmes leading to qualifications in Youth and Community Work across the UK and Ireland. Stephen is currently Programme Lead for Childhood and Youth Studies at The Open University.

Dr Tyrell GoldingDeputy Associate Dean Curriculum - Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language StudiesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Tyrell GoldingDeputy Associate Dean Curriculum - Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies

Tyrrell is currently Associate Head of School (Programmes) for the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sports with responsibility for the development and maintenance of the School’s curriculum and developing and setting curriculum strategy and plans for the school. She was previously Head of Qualifications (Undergraduate) Childhood and Youth at The Open University, which included the BA (Hons) in Youth Work with JNC and BA (Hons) Childhood and Youth Studies. She has been a full-time academic at The Open University since March 2011.

More on our health and wellbeing...

Alex Brooker presenting the NHS: A People's History, a BBC and OU partnership series

NHS: A People's History

Alex Brooker presents a crowdsourced social history of the NHS, told through people's treasured mementoes.

Read Article
BBC Hospital, Group shot


Hospital tells the riveting story of the NHS in unprecedented times. 

Read Article
Child of our time at 20 - Rhianna

Horizon: Child of Our Time: Turning 20

Children from the ground-breaking 20 year BBC series Child of Our Time look back at growing up in the UK in the 21st Century.

Read Article
Actress Vicky Mclure sings with her dementia choir

Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure

Discover the extent of music’s ability to combat dementia, as Vicky forms a choir of people all living with dementia.

Read Article
surrogates bbc series hero image


Five young British women attempt to carry babies for other people.

Read Article
A picture of Chris Bavin

The Truth About Obesity

Chris Bavin discovers what science can tell us about why 2/3 of us are overweight - and how we can fight it.

Read Article
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall pouring the contents of a bag of sugar into his own palm

Britain's Fat Fight

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall looks at the impact and causes of obesity in modern Britain.

Read Article
Steve, on the BBC documentary, The Big C and Me

The Big C & Me

Millions of people are living with cancer. This series follows the lives of people dealing with everything from the moment of diagnosis to whatever lies beyond.

Read Article

Explore the OU

A cropped photo of students with documents scattered in front of them.

Open University courses

An image of the OU poster for 'A Perfect Planet'

Order a free OU Poster

A young woman on a computer in a cafe

OU subjects A-Z

A photograph taken in a cafe. A mug is in focus in the foreground, and a man using a laptop is out of focus in the background.

The latest OU news

A photo of a person using a laptop and notebook, and a small dog resting its head on the user's arm

About distance learning

A top-down picture of a man using a laptop at a desk

Free courses

A photo of a man wearing a red hoodie and headphones walking away from the camera, on a busy path by a road

Hear from students

About our BBC partnership

For over 50 years The Open University and the BBC have worked together; co-producing hundreds of hours of programming and bringing learning to life for millions. Find out more about our unique partnership.

OU website