The government wants 250,000 volunteers to help the NHS and the vulnerable - here’s how you can help

Could you volunteer to help? (Photo: Shutterstock)Could you volunteer to help? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Could you volunteer to help? (Photo: Shutterstock)

The government is calling for 250,000 volunteers who are in good health to help assist with the national effort to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Some quarter of a million people are wanted to volunteer their time to help support the NHS and vulnerable people.

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The fight against the virus

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that 250,000 volunteers are being recruited by the government to assist in the fight against the virus, while the ExCel centre in London is to be converted into a new NHS hospital.

Mr Hancock said the temporary hospital - the NHS Nightingale Hospital - will open in London next week, and will comprise two wards, each of 2,000 people.

He also confirmed that more than 35,000 extra NHS staff have already joined up to help, including retired doctors and nurses, and final year medical students.

The volunteers will join the 11,7788 retired NHS staff, which includes 2,660 doctors, 6,147 nurses and more than 2,500 pharmacists.

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Over 24,000 student medics and nurses will also be permitted to help in the battle against the virus.

Speaking in a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday (24 Mar), Mr Hancock said, "We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health, to help the NHS, for shopping, for delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health.

"The NHS responders is a new scheme set up so that people can come and help and make sure the NHS and the local services that are needed can get all the support that they can."

What will the volunteers do?

Those who volunteer as an NHS Volunteer Responder to help with the cause can be called on for a variety of simple, but vital tasks. These could include:

- Delivering medicines from pharmacies

- Driving patients to appointments

- Bringing them home from hospital

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- Making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home

How can I volunteer?

To volunteer as an NHS Responder you can simply sign up via the app that will be run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives and NHS 111 operators, as well as social care staff, will be able to request help for their at-risk patients via a dedicated call centre. The RVS will then match people who need help with volunteers who live nearby.

Once you have registered, and checks are complete, you will be provided a log-in to the GoodSAM Responder app.

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Simply switch the app to 'on duty', and you will see live and local volunteer tasks to pick from nearby.

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.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

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How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

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All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

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For more information on government advice, please check their website

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS