Volunteers ‘ready to go’ in NHS coronavirus fightback

Healthcare professionals can now call on local volunteers to help people for support in their community.

Hundreds of thousands of volunteers in England are now available for tasks, including collecting shopping and prescribed medicines; driving patients to medical appointments and home from hospital; making regular phone calls to people isolating at home and transporting medical supplies and equipment for the NHS.

The service, commissioned by NHS England, is being delivered by the Royal Voluntary Service and all approved volunteers have undergone appropriate ID checks.

Health professionals, pharmacists and local authority staff  are now being encouraged to upload requests for help for patients who require assistance to the NHS Volunteer Responder referrer’s portal (, making clear the type of support needed and how often it is required. Alternatively, referrals can be made by calling 0808 196 3382.

Each request is then sent via the GoodSAM app to “on duty” volunteers local to the patient who are available to help. Over 750,000 volunteers have signed up to support.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England said: “Coronavirus is an unprecedented global health emergency, but our volunteers are ready to go and are an incredible support which we are extremely fortunate to have.

“We’re committed to continuing to partner with health and care professionals to make sure this easy-to-use resource is being used to its full potential and is supporting those who need it to remain at home and minimise the risk of contracting the virus.”

Raj Patel, Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme is a valuable tool for GPs, and others, to ensure vulnerable people are able to self-isolate. Thanks to the huge response from volunteers, the system can be used for an expanded group of vulnerable people and this will help to ensure that these individuals are kept safe.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service said: “We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the numbers of people who have signed up to become volunteers. Now our volunteer army is up and running we’re keen to ensure health and care professionals are up to speed on how they can refer vulnerable people for support.

“We’ll be working hard to do this in a number of ways but we’re also calling on health and care workers to spread the word amongst their professional networks in order to help us ensure everyone who needs support is able to access it.”

Mark Wilson, Co-founder and Medical Director of GoodSAM said: “GoodSAM is immensely proud to have adapted our platform to be the first autonomous tasking system on this scale in the world. The complexities of matching different volunteer roles to those in need in a geo-located manner has never been done before. We thank the volunteers and GoodSAM community in all their support in making this happen. We look forward to the system helping many thousands of people.”

Referrals to the service can be made by any of the following health and care professionals:

  • GPs/social prescribing link workers/practice nurses concerned about an at risk or vulnerable individual they have advised to self-isolate
  • Hospital discharge teams
  • Community pharmacists
  • NHS 111 and ambulance trusts
  • Community health trusts that need volunteer support for patients leaving hospital
  • Local authorities

NHS Volunteer Responders will be helping the NHS by performing the following simple but vital roles which help people without compromising strict government advice on self-isolation and social distancing:

  • Community Response volunteer: This role involves collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating and delivering these supplies to their home.
  • Patient Transport volunteer: This role supports the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge, and ensuring that they are settled safely back into their home.
  • NHS Transport volunteer: This role involves transporting equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites, it may also involve assisting pharmacies with medication delivery.
  • Check in and Chat volunteer: This role provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.

Thanks to the huge volunteer response, this scheme has been expanded to support beyond the 1.5 million vulnerable people who were advised to self-isolate and ‘shield’. Any person a healthcare professional or local authority believes to be vulnerable can now be referred to the NHS Responders, where one or a combination of the four available volunteer roles is felt to be appropriate.