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Coronavirus: How well is the NHS volunteer scheme working?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 16 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:00 16 April 2020

Health secretary Matt Hancock answers questions from the media during a daily briefing at10 Downing Street. Picture: PA Wire

Health secretary Matt Hancock answers questions from the media during a daily briefing at10 Downing Street. Picture: PA Wire

Archant

The day after prime minister Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide lockdown, his government issued a plea for 250,000 volunteers to come forward in support of the NHS.

Calling elderly and vulnerable residents in just one of the ways NHS Volunteer Responders can help. Picture: Getty ImagesCalling elderly and vulnerable residents in just one of the ways NHS Volunteer Responders can help. Picture: Getty Images

The initial response was overwhelming, with 500,000 people signing up to the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme within 24 hours of health secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement.

In total more than 750,000 have enlisted and many have started receiving tasks via a mobile app called GoodSam, ranging from picking up prescriptions to checking on vulnerable people.

But questions have been raised over whether everything is running smoothly, with several volunteers saying they are yet to receive any alerts - despite some being on duty for more than 300 hours.

The charity coordinating the scheme has said it is “delighted” at the uptake, and said the number of duties would “expand over the coming weeks”.

Michelle Parnell, from Dereham, signed up at the first available opportunity, but has not been asked to help.

The 36-year-old, now a stay-at-home mum, used to work as a clinical commissioning manager in north Norfolk and is therefore familiar with the administrative side of similar initiatives.

“When this started I was interested to see how everything was going to work, and it all seems a bit disjointed at the moment,” said Mrs Parnell.

“In some areas of the UK there are obviously masses of people going into hospital, so maybe the delay in getting tasks is because Norfolk hasn’t been hit quite as hard.”

She added: “I thought we’d see more examples of people delivering PPE to care homes and GP practices. As the situation gets worse in care homes, that is where I think we may be needed.”

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When we posted on our Norfolk Coronavirus Updates Facebook page asking people about their experiences, several stories were similar - one person said they’d been on call for 349 hours without a request, and another person in King’s Lynn said they’d heard nothing for 343 hours.

One of those who has been called into action, though, is Samantha Tisshaw, an accountant from Stalham, who received two tasks within minutes of each other.

Shopping for essential supplies is one of the ways NHS Volunteer Responders can help. Picture: ArchantShopping for essential supplies is one of the ways NHS Volunteer Responders can help. Picture: Archant

The first turned out to be a false alarm, but the recipient of Mrs Tisshaw’s phone call - a 96-year-old woman - was “pleased to speak to someone” all the same.

Her second job related to a neighbour’s prescription, which she will pick up when alerted to do so in the coming days.

“The system is a bit confusing to start with,” added Mrs Tisshaw, 44. “I could see on the map all these other people around me signed up, but couldn’t work out what was going to happen next, so when it first pinged at me it really caught me off guard.

“It’s almost like you’ve got to do it once to know what it’s like. A friend down the road has had one task, so I know in our area it is definitely working.”

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Steve Pepper, who lives in Clenchwarton, near King’s Lynn, signed up to become a volunteer after being furloughed from his job as a warehouse manager.

Steve Pepper, from Clenchwarton, near King's Lynn, is one of those who signed up to the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme. Picture: Steve PepperSteve Pepper, from Clenchwarton, near King's Lynn, is one of those who signed up to the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme. Picture: Steve Pepper

Despite completing one task successfully, the 34-year-old believes the programme so far represents a missed opportunity.

“To begin with it was all about this massive response from the public, but there was nothing telling the people and organisations who need help what to do,” said Mr Pepper.

“My brother’s signed up too and he lives in Heacham where there are mostly elderly residents, but he’s heard nothing.

“It’s a shame that so many people want help and so many people are willing to help, but it just seems nothing is moving.”

The Royal Voluntary Service, the charity helping coordinate the scheme, has assured those awaiting alerts that their services may soon be required.

Rebecca Kennelly, director of volunteering at the Royal Voluntary Service, said: “We are delighted so many responders are ready for duty, and can assure them that the number of duties available will expand over the coming weeks.

“We are calling on healthcare professionals, pharmacists and local authority staff to upload referrals for people self-isolating and at risk who require the support our volunteers are able to provide.”

• Recruitment to NHS Volunteer Responders has temporarily been paused while the initial 750,000 applications are processed. To find out more, visit england.nhs.uk/participation.

• Requests for help can be uploaded to the NHS Volunteer Responder referrer’s portal, found at goodsamapp.org/NHSreferral.

For the latest COVID-19 news, visit the Norfolk Coronavirus Updates Facebook page.

Click here to find out more about the EDP’s Here to Help campaign.

You can also subscribe to our daily coronavirus newsletter, providing all the latest from where you live.


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