More than half a million sign up to join NHS as volunteers in UK's battle against coronavirus

Sean Morrison
Evening Standard

More than half a million people have signed up to help the NHS as volunteers in just over 24 hours as the UK’s battle against coronavirus crisis continues.

The health service and Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked those who have offered to step in and support some of the most vulnerable people across the country.

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The mass sign-up numbers far outstrip the quarter of a million requested by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to help the 1.5 million people isolating for 12 weeks.

And speaking at Wednesday's daily press conference at Number 10, Mr Johnson said he wanted to offer a "special thank you to everyone who has now volunteered to help the NHS".

NHS staff wearing masks (Getty Images)
NHS staff wearing masks (Getty Images)

"When we launched the appeal last night, we hoped to get 250,000 volunteers over a few days."

The NHS said in a tweet: "Thank you so much to everyone who has signed up to help some of the most vulnerable people in their communities.”

It comes after the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK rose by almost 1,500 as the death toll passed 460.

Some 9,529 people had tested positive by 9am on Wednesday, the Department of Health confirmed. That's up from 8,077 at the same point a day earlier.

Mr Johnson said the volunteers would be "absolutely crucial" in the fight against the illness.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: "We are truly amazed by the number of people who want to come and help us in the war against coronavirus.

"I would like to thank every last one of you who are offering your time - you will without a doubt help us to save lives.

"Our NHS needs you - whether it's by volunteering or simply staying at home - you are helping your families, communities and protecting our NHS."

Anyone who is over the age of 18, fit and healthy and non-symptomatic can offer their time to the scheme.

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will all be able to request help for at-risk patients through a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service, which will match people who need help with volunteers who live near them.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens praised the "overwhelming response" to the call for volunteers to help the vulnerable and thanked those who will devote their time to the health service.

"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," he said.

"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."

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick called NHS staff "absolute heroes ... working round the clock to support us as a country" and provided more detail on what the volunteers may be doing.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that there would be a variety of jobs available, including parcel delivery and driving.

They may also be asked to drive people to appointments or make regular phone calls to those in isolation, the NHS said.

Mr Jenrick added: "We need to get volunteers into this collective national effort to support the NHS, to support social care, and in particular to support the 1.5 million people who for specific clinical reasons we're shielding."

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