The NHS is enjoying a boom in volunteer support as people seek to improve their employability skills and job prospects in the downturn, according to one health service trust that has seen volunteer numbers double.

The University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW) said it now has 850 unpaid individuals assisting in its two hospitals, up from 450 in January 2010. A further 300 people are at various stages of the volunteer recruitment process.

While this is a boost to the government’s Big Society vision, the trust attributed the spike in volunteer numbers to the recession.

Kristine Horne, the voluntary services facilitator at UHCW, said: “With the government calling on us to contribute to the Big Society, it’s very encouraging to see so many people motivated to help others and contribute to the life of their local hospital.

“However, in the current economic climate we are also seeing a rise in the number of people volunteering to build up their skills and improve their employment prospects”.

Sue Covill, deputy director of employment services at NHS Employers, added: “The NHS is an attractive place to work for many volunteers because of its diversity and the personal rewards that come from helping the public.

“Employers in the NHS know that volunteers are not a replacement for paid staff, but recognise that they do provide invaluable support and are a very important part of the NHS family.”