NHS health teams to refer lonely and isolated patients for check in and chat service

Over a thousand volunteers have signed up to provide friendly phone calls for patients in England who are vulnerable, isolated or lonely, as the NHS Volunteer Responders programme reintroduces its Check in and Chat service.

GPs, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers are being encouraged to request Check in and Chat support for patients who are socially isolated or would benefit from a phone call and a bit of encouragement – with an option to request just a one-off call or a series of calls.

With thousands more volunteers expected to sign up in the coming weeks, this move signals a new phase of the NHS volunteer programme, which was set up at the start of the pandemic to support people who were self-isolating with simple tasks such as shopping, fetching medication and lifts to medical appointments.

Building on the vital role volunteers play in the NHS, in its 75th year, this is the first of a range of volunteer activities that will be introduced to support health and care services and improve patient experience.

Check in and Chat volunteers will provide a listening ear and, where appropriate, help patients explore positive changes they could make to their lives, for example to connect with others, become more physically active or to learn new skills or volunteer, and will signpost to other services and support in the community.

The decision to bring back the service follows insight from GPs and social prescribers that many of their patients weren’t as socially connected as they had been before the pandemic.

A survey of clinicians and health and care professionals who used the Check in and Chat service during the pandemic showed nearly four in five saying they were likely to use it and nearly nine in 10 saying it would meet current patient needs.

Almost three quarters of health professionals who responded to the survey said a refreshed Check in and Chat service would complement existing services.

Chief Nursing Officer for England, Ruth May said: “We are extremely grateful to our incredible volunteers who support the NHS and the British public, including during our greatest time of need in the pandemic.

“It is fantastic that over a thousand volunteers have now signed up again to provide these invaluable calls for patients that are vulnerable, isolated or lonely, and to help our staff in providing the best care possible.

“It is very easy for GPs, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers to refer patients to the Check in and Chat service through a simple online platform – and we know what a difference a neighbourly phone call can make if you’re feeling isolated or in need of some support.”

NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “Volunteers played a vital role in helping us deliver the biggest and most successful vaccination programme in health history and in our 75th year, they continue to help us to save lives.

“NHS health teams can refer patients to this fantastic service which offers a listening ear and, where appropriate, explore positive changes they could make to their lives, for example to connect with others, become more physically active or to learn new skills or volunteer themselves.”

Referring a patient is easy and completely free through the GoodSAM platform, practitioners can register at: GoodSAM (

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service who are delivering Volunteer Responders with GoodSAM on behalf of NHS England, said: “Royal Voluntary Service is proud to be working with NHS England to deliver this innovative volunteer programme. Together, we are constructing a programme that is designed to add value to the communities across England where the need is greatest.

“Thousands of incredible Volunteer Responders supported their communities through the pandemic, and now the timely relaunch of Check in and Chat will once again provide support to those that need it most, over the challenging months ahead.”

The Volunteer Responders programme provides a resilient pool of volunteers to support health teams and the ability to respond to future emergencies.

The programme links volunteers across England with tasks in their community and beyond via geo-location technology on the smart phone app, GoodSAM.

“We have invested an additional £2.3 billion per year into mental wellbeing services by 2024 – giving two million more people the help they need.”

When initially launched in 2020 to support those most vulnerable to COVID-19, 400,000 on-duty volunteers carried out 2.2 million support tasks for people in need and the NHS.

Support tasks included helping with shopping, fetching medication, telephone befriending and patient transport. It has also provided over 360,000 Steward Volunteer shifts in vaccination sites across England and volunteers will continue to assist the smooth delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme through this role.

Meena Ram, 54, from Birmingham saw the call for volunteers to help support those most in need during the pandemic, and she knew it was something she wanted to be a part of.

Despite still working full time from home as a Civil Servant, Meena signed up as an NHS Volunteer Responder and offered her time for Check in and Chat volunteering whenever she got a chance.

“I switched on-duty at every opportunity I got, volunteering is what got me through the pandemic. There was a lot of bad news around at the start and sitting in front of the TV was getting to be too much but discovering NHS Volunteer Responders kept me busy.

Meena is now signing back up as a volunteer for the reintroduction of the Check in and Chat service, and said:

“I signed back up and submitted my ID check as soon as I could, as I couldn’t wait to be on duty as a Check in and Chat volunteer again.

“I absolutely love volunteering and find it very fulfilling. It’s an incredible feeling to know that you are making a difference in someone’s life. To know that you are the phone call that they are looking forward to is really rewarding.

“Some of the people that use the Check in and Chat service might not hear from anyone else at all in that day or even that week and it can be very touching to hear how grateful they are and very moving to hear their stories.

“I have found a new passion in volunteering and I absolutely plan to keep it up in the future, I hope to continue to make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

Doris Iroegbu, 37, from Stevenage has always been a keen charity fundraiser and her sister works in the NHS. She signed up as a Check in and Chat volunteer during the pandemic when she was on maternity leave from her busy job in HR.

She wanted to do something practical to help that would work around her baby’s routine, and as talking and listening are an important part of her job, she knew she’d find it easy to strike up a conversation.

She has found the experience extremely rewarding is going to continue volunteering now in this flexible role that fits her commitments.

“I was so pleased when I heard I would be able to sign back up to Check in and Chat. Having the flexibility to fit my volunteering around work and family life has been great.

“I’ve enjoyed chatting with lots of people about their personal lives, families and even war stories. It’s made me feel humble and blessed and has been emotional at times as some of the people I speak to are completely alone with no-one else to talk to. They’re so grateful to chat and I get some lovely feedback. One older lady with poor mobility asked how old I am and told me that she’d been the life of the party at my age!”

Minister for Mental Health and Women’s Health Strategy, Maria Caulfield said: “The UK is a world-leader in tackling loneliness, with the world’s first government strategy and first loneliness Minister.

“Picking up the phone and chatting to a friendly voice can make the world of difference to someone experiencing loneliness, and I applaud those coming forward to volunteer their time for this important cause.

“We have invested an additional £2.3 billion per year into mental wellbeing services by 2024 – giving two million more people the help they need.”