Health Secretary Alan Johnson today launched a four-month consultation to improve support for volunteers in the NHS, social care and third sector, and to encourage more volunteering opportunities.
The consultation, "Towards a strategy to support volunteering in health and social care", will lead to a national volunteering strategy next year.
Mr Johnson said: "Volunteers do an amazing job, they are vital to the lifeblood of the NHS and social care services.
"There is a long-established tradition of volunteering across the full range of health and social care settings; indeed the NHS grew from the pre-NHS voluntary hospitals."
Mr Johnson added that the consultation document "aims to articulate a clear vision of how volunteering fits into the health, wellbeing and social care system."
Ivan Lewis, Care Services Minister said: "Volunteering has a huge potential role in providing more flexible, responsive and patient-focused health and social care services.
"Volunteers play a variety of critical roles, at all levels, providing mutual benefit to staff, volunteers and service users within health and social care services. We know that their contribution is essential and can improve the lives of patients and their local communities.
"They deserve more visible recognition and support across the health and social care system, along with a clear vision and a strategy, which is what this consultation will provide." Justin Davis Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England, said: "Volunteering England is very pleased that the contribution of volunteers to the NHS and wider public sector has been recognised through the development of this national strategy.
"We are also delighted that the need to support volunteer managers has been acknowledged, as has the understanding that volunteering incurs real costs through admin, training and expenses."
The consultation closes on 30 September 2008. The final strategy and implementation plan will be published in 2009.