More than 60,000 retired doctors and nurses are being told “Your NHS Needs You” and urged to come back to the frontline in the battle against coronavirus.
Health officials are urging those who retired in the last three years to help tackle the “greatest global health threat” in the history of the NHS.
Student nurses and medical students are also being offered temporary work as the health service struggles to cope with rising demand and growing staff shortages.
Officials said those who join the “NHS Army” by re-registering with regulators will be assessed to see what kind of help they could offer in the battle against the pandemic.
Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England, said: “As the health service gears up to deal with the greatest global health threat in its history, my message to former colleagues is ‘Your NHS Needs You’.
“Our wonderful nurses in every corner of the country are preparing to change the way we work so that we can provide the right care for the rising numbers of people who will need it.
“But we can’t do it alone, so I am urging all recent former nurses to lend us your expertise and experience during this pandemic because I have no doubt that you can help to save lives. And I’m grateful for senior students providing expert care in this time with their NHS colleagues.”
The Nursing and Midwifery Council is writing to more than 50,000 nurses whose registration has lapsed in the last three years. The General Medical Council will write to another 15,500 doctors who have left the register since 2017.
When the Government announced plans to recruit a “Dad’s Army” of retired medics to boost the ranks, many doctors expressed concern about putting older workers in danger. Mortality rates from coronavirus rise sharply above the age of 70.
But the policy will be limited to those who left the register in the last three years, with doctors’ watchdogs pointing out that the average age of such medics is 54.
Returners will be able to opt in to a register to fill a range of roles across the NHS, clinical and non-clinical, based on their skills and time away from work.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS, said: “Our hardworking NHS staff are working round the clock to get ready for the peak of the pandemic, and today we are calling on former staff to come back and help us.
“It is only right we use every means at our disposal to bolster the frontline in the face of this unprecedented challenge for the NHS.”
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, added: “To further boost the ranks of our NHS, we are now turning to people who have recently left the healthcare professions who can bring their experience and expertise to our health system.
“They can play a crucial role in maximising our capacity to fight this outbreak – and wherever they can help, they will be hugely welcomed.”
Other retired emergency service workers could also be called on to return to action. London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said work was under way in writing to recently retired police officers so they could return to work in back-office functions.
Recently retired firefighters under 70 could also be asked to help.