Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has called on members of the general public to come forward to help support the most vulnerable people who are unable to leave their homes.
It has been estimated that about 1.5 million people have been told to stay inside for 12 weeks to shield them from the virus, including those over the age of 70 and those with health conditions such as certain cancers and respiratory illnesses.
“As the next step in that effort, today we launch NHS volunteers,” Mr Hancock said during Tuesday’s public briefing.
“We are seeking a quarter of million volunteers – people in good health – to help the NHS: for shopping, delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health.
“The NHS Volunteer Responders is a new scheme set up so that people can come and help, and to make sure that the NHS and local services that are needed get all the support that they can.”
Here is everything you need to know about becoming an NHS Volunteer Responder, from how to sign up to what tasks you might be expected to carry out.
How do I sign up?
If you would like to become an NHS Volunteer Responder you can register your interest by visiting the following NHS website: https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS
Potential volunteers are asked to fill in a form with their details, including name, date of birth and address.
So far we have > 170,000 people register to help the NHS during the #covid crisis. Please allow 48 hours for ID to be checked by @RoyalVolService. Thanks for joining! @nhs @nhsx @NHSCCIO #volunteer #CoronaVirus pic.twitter.com/wgB91u4UT0— GoodSAM (@GoodSamApp)March 25, 2020
A number of checks are then carried out behind the scenes before successful applicants are given login details for the “GoodSAM” Responder app.
Volunteers can then use the app to highlight when they are available to be “on duty”, and find tasks to pick from nearby.
What kind of tasks will responders carry out?
There are currently four types of volunteers listed on the NHS page where people register:
- Community response volunteers: collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and delivering these supplies to their home;
- Patient transport volunteer: supporting the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge, and ensuring that they are settled safely back in to their home;
- NHS transport volunteer: transporting equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites, and possibly assisting pharmacies with medication delivery;
- Check-in and chat volunteer: providing short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.
Who can sign up to be a volunteer?
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “If you are well and able to do so safely, I would urge you to sign up today.” However, there are some limitations.
While volunteers must be aged 18 or over, fit and well, with no symptoms, those in higher-risk groups – such as the over-seventies, and those who are pregnant or have underlying medical conditions – will be able to offer support by telephone.
The NHS has reassured people that the majority of tasks can be undertaken while practising safe social distancing and that volunteers will receive guidance through a “getting started pack”.
Who will the volunteers be helping?
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS director of primary care, has said that volunteers will be helping those who have been told to “shield” themselves from the virus.
This includes the elderly and those who are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions.
“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments where a single action from one person can be the difference between life and death for another, and simple acts of kindness are going to make all the difference in keeping some of the most vulnerable people well and out of hospital,” Dr Kanani said.
”NHS staff are pulling out all the stops to ensure those who need care receive it, and creating a bank of helpers that they can call upon to support their most vulnerable patients through this difficult time is going to be invaluable, so I would urge anyone who can to sign up as an NHS volunteer responder today.“
Which professionals can call on the volunteers for support?
A number of healthcare professionals will be able to call on volunteers for support including GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 and social care staff.
The requests will be funnelled through a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service, which will match people who need help with volunteers who live nearby.