Julia Neuberger has had a fascinating career, as a rabbi, in the health service and more recently as Gordon Brown’s volunteering tsar. But she provided a fascinating insight into why some institutions feel human and some don’t, and – at least in the NHS – it doesn’t have anything to do
with money. In her book about older people, she described with horror how her uncle was neglected in three of the four hospitals in which he lived his fi nal weeks. She explained that the one exception was also the hospital which was most cash-strapped:
When my uncle eventually died, in the hospital which really understood and respected his needs and treated him like a human being, there were volunteers everywhere. In contrast, there was barely a volunteer to be seen in the hospital which treated him like an object, although it was very well-staffed. At a time when public services are becoming more technocratic, where the crucial relationships at the heart of their objective are increasingly discounted, volunteers can and do make all the difference.