Up to 250,000 volunteers are being urged to come forward to ensure the most vulnerable people receive shopping and medicines.
The NHS has launched an appeal for healthy Britons to assist with the “national effort” to save lives.
Anyone over the age of 18 who is in good health can come forward to join an “army” of volunteers to protect the 1.5 million people in England most at risk from coronavirus.
GPs and nurses will be able to refer those in such circumstances – including those who are immunosuppressed – to an NHS volunteer responder who matches their needs.
Volunteers who sign up will be able to choose from local tasks, which could include picking up medicines and shopping or driving patients to hospital appointments.
Urging the public to comply with Government instructions about social distancing and to also assist in the volunteer effort, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said on Tuesday: “In these extraordinary times, it’s essential that we all pull together as part of the national effort to protect the most vulnerable, reduce pressures on our NHS and care system, and save lives.
“If you are well and able to do so safely, I would urge you to sign up today to help the most vulnerable people in our communities as an NHS Volunteer Responder.
“Your help has the potential to make a real difference to some of those most affected by this outbreak, from delivering essential prescriptions to calling to check on the wellbeing of those self-isolating.”
He said more than 35,000 extra staff have already joined up to help fight against the virus, including retired doctors and student doctors and nurses.
Anyone on the scheme 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 those with underlying medical conditions – will be able to offer support by telephone.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS Director of Primary Care, said: “Coronavirus is the biggest challenge we have ever faced, which is why we’re rallying the troops and telling the public: Your NHS Needs You.
“Across the country people are playing their part in the fight against the virus by staying home for the next 12 weeks, to protect themselves, others and the NHS.
“But many of those shielding will need our support to do that, and by signing up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder, people who are well can do their bit too.
“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.
Mr Hancock said 11,788 recently-retired NHS staff had responded to the call to return to the service, including 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses. “I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need,” he said.
Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses will also “move to the frontline” next week.
All volunteers joining the NHS scheme will need to undertake training and background checks that are appropriate to the roles that they sign up for. All volunteers registering on the app will need to upload identity documents, driving license (for any driving-related tasks), confirmation that they have insurance (if applicable) and any other role-related information.
Members of the public can sign up quickly and easily at goodsamapp.org/NHS to become NHS Volunteer Responders, and can be called on to do simple but vital tasks such as:
- Delivering medicines from pharmacies;
- Driving patients to appointments;
- Bringing them home from hospital;
- Making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home.
Health officials stressed that many of the tasks can be undertaken while observing social distancing, with guidance to be provided to those who sign up. Patient transport drivers will require an enhanced DBS check.
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.
Catherine Johnstone, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Human compassion comes to the fore at times of great crisis. We saw that when Royal Voluntary Service was first founded during the outbreak of World War Two when a million women stepped forward to help those in need.
“Since then, our volunteers have continued to provide vital support in hospitals and in communities; helping people get back on their feet after a personal crisis. In 2020 we find ourselves once again facing a daunting national challenge.
“We are proud to support the NHS at this important moment and we are certain many thousands of people will selflessly step up to play their part.”