Over 600,000 volunteers have been approved to help those most at risk who are isolating at home from coronavirus, more than double the original target.
The scheme has been fully operational for two weeks with healthcare practitioners, pharmacists and local authority and social care staff calling on volunteers to carry out around 35,000 tasks to date, including delivering medicines, shopping and other supplies as well as making calls to check in on those isolating at home.
In some areas volunteers have been called upon to take blood pressure monitors or other equipment to patients’ homes to enable health professionals to remotely monitor their health.
The NHS and Royal Voluntary Service are now taking steps to make the service more personalised for people who need support and increase referrals into the programme, including enabling self-referral for those most at risk and continuing to raise awareness of the programme in GP practices, pharmacies and with local authorities and social care providers.
The huge number of volunteers who have stepped forward means the NHS and Royal Voluntary Service can help not just the estimated 1.5 million people being ‘shielded’ from the virus, but also other people identified as vulnerable or receiving care in the community with local authorities also able to make referrals.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said: “The public has stepped up in numbers even greater than we hoped, to give their time supporting the heroic efforts of NHS and social care staff fighting this virus at the front line.
“Our partners at the Royal Voluntary Service and GoodSAM have worked flat out to check and approve tens of thousands of applications every day, an incredible undertaking in itself, and we now have more than half a million people ready to get to work and support their neighbours.
“The scale of the public response means volunteers will be brought in to help look after a wider group of people who need support from this army of volunteers.
“Where a vulnerable person may not have friends and family able to help, they will be able to put in a call to ask for volunteer support.”
Chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service, Catherine Johnstone CBE said: “The selflessness of our volunteers has inspired the nation, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we’ve received since the launch. Demonstrating the continued love and support of our NHS in this difficult time has given hope to everyone working on the frontline.
“Now we have our army of volunteers already working or ready to accept activities to support people at this critical time.”
Co-founders of GoodSAM Mark Wilson and Ali Ghorbanghli said: “By opening the referral system so that those in need can directly request help, the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM platform will be able to provide even greater support during the Coronavirus crisis. Once again we would like to thank the Volunteers for all they are doing.”
Sabrina Ellis, 32, from Wolverhampton, who has spent the last week responding to volunteer requests by making phone calls to check on people isolating at home, said: “As a registered mental health nurse who used to work for the NHS it was a no brainer to get involved with NHS Volunteer Responders. Due to my active family and work life I decided to commit to the Check in and Chat option of the scheme. This has been extremely rewarding already, my calls kicked off on bank holiday Monday getting nine calls through in one day. The prompt sheets provided have been a great starting point to aid the flow of the calls and lead onto many varied conversations.
“It has been lovely to hear about people’s different stories and be able to use my mental health training to help some of the most vulnerable people. Even when I’ve needed further help the app’s assistance team have been extremely supportive. It feels really rewarding to know that I am doing my small bit to help in such uncertain times and hopefully relieving some pressure on the NHS.”
Joel Charles, 34, from Old Harlow in Essex, added: “What I find so exceptional about this difficult time is that people have become so neighbourly, something we haven’t seen in a long time. I received my first task last week which was to collect a bulk prescription for an elderly couple who had been very anxious about being able to get their prescriptions. It was encouraging to see their faces and the sense of relief when I was able to deliver it to their doorstep. I was just delighted to be of service. I have now delivered three more prescriptions and responded to a separate query from a resident via the app.”