Nearly half a million people have joined the NHS volunteer army in just one day, in the greatest show of national altruism since Britain was at war.
In just 24 hours, some 405,724 people have answered Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s call to action for ordinary citizens to deliver shopping to vulnerable people, transport patients to and from hospital, drive medicines and equipment to NHS facilities and check up on isolated individuals by telephone.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the number of people that had signed up was equivalent to the population of Coventry, adding: “To all of you, I say thank you, on behalf of the entire country.”
Thanks to the surge of help, the NHS is now extending its target to recruit 750,000 people to help in the coronavirus crisis.
By comparison, Lord Kitchener’s famous finger pointing “Wants You” poster in September 1914 drew 463,000 volunteers to the British army in the month after it was produced. In 2012, some 70,000 people volunteered at the London Olympic Games.
Last night, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Absolutely thrilled that 405,000 NHS volunteers have already signed up. We are grateful for each and every one of you – doing your bit in the national effort to defeat coronavirus.”
The effort comes as another XX people died of the virus, bringing the overall UK death toll to XX with more than 8,000 confirmed cases.
The NHS Volunteer campaign is a new initiative which looks to help the 1.5 million Britons with underlying medical conditions who have been asked to stay at home for the next 12 weeks.
It is also designed as a support structure to reduce pressure on the NHS and its staff, with the volunteers carrying out four “simple but vital” roles.
Community Response volunteers will collect shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and deliver these supplies to their home.
Patient Transport volunteers support the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge, and ensuring that they are settled safely back into their home.
NHS Transport volunteers will transport equipment, supplies and medication between NHS services and sites, and may also assist pharmacies with medication delivery.
Check-in and Chat volunteers will be essential for the mental health of many isolated people. This role provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.
Once you have registered online at goodsamapp.org/NHS and checks are complete you will be provided a log-in to the GoodSAM Responder app. Users can switch the app to ‘on duty’, and see live and local volunteer tasks to pick from nearby.
Francesca Marina Hufton is a nursing student in Kent, told the Telegraph “It was an effortless decision.”
“I am currently a second year student nurse and I’ve been looking for a while for ways I could help during this crisis. I’ve already been phoning people who have been severely affected by this mentally, but I wanted to do more.
“A lot of people are really struggling to come to terms with what’s going on, and a lot of people are lonely who live on their own and unable to visit friends and family.”
Countess Bathurst, who along with her husband The Earl Bathurst, runs their 15,000 acre estate in Cirencester has signed up to help the effort.
“One of the wonderful things about Brits is that when the chips are down, the whole country pulls together. There is nothing like the great people of this country,” she told the Telegraph.
“My husband’s great grandmother was a volunteer nurse in World War One and I think we have that wartime spirit now,” said Lady Bathurst
“As soon as I saw Matt Hancock’s call last night, I signed up. We can’t sit here and say that we’re alright. We have to help where we can, whether that is shopping for vulnerable people, delivering medicines or just calling them on the phone.
“Our NHS workers and the police are already working so hard. Now it’s for us all to help out.”
Volunteers must be 18 or over, and fit and well with no symptoms. Those in higher-risk groups (including those over 70, those who are pregnant or with underlying medical conditions) will be able to offer support by telephone.
The majority of tasks can be undertaken while social distancing.
Patient transport drivers will require an enhanced DBS check and will receive guidance to do this role safely.
GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will all be able to request help for their at-risk patients via a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens praised the “overwhelming response” and thanked those who will devote their time to the health service.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive said: “Times like this show just how generous the British people are and how much they value our health service – we are blown away by this response and the kindness of our country.
“I can’t thank those enough who have pledged to devote their time to helping others at what is a challenging and uncertain time for you and your families. The NHS is always there for you – now is your time to be there for us too.”
The volunteers will start roles from next week and help the 1.5 million who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.
Catherine Johnsone, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: “We’ve been overwhelmed with the number of people who have stepped forward and volunteered to be part of the NHS Volunteer Responders but we are also not surprised – Royal Voluntary Service witnessed a similar response during the outbreak of WW2 when a million women came forward to help those most in need.”