Stories of former staff returning to the NHS to support the COVID-19 response

Thousands of staff are back on the frontline, providing valuable support to health and social care, in acute services and other settings, as COVID-19 vaccinators, and through national programmes like continuing health care and clinical trials.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who stepped forward to help, with each person offering a unique range of skills and experiences.

Read stories from Avril, George, Carol and Sally, returning healthcare professionals and members of the NHS Retirement Fellowship, who are bringing a wealth of experience and compassion to the frontline.

Find out more about joining the NHS Retirement Fellowship.


Avril McCartney

Photograph of Avril McCartneyFormer MacMillan Palliative Care Nurse Avril, from Whitley Bay North Tyneside, retired from her role at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital two years ago and spent the first year wondering what she was going to do; she said she felt “there was something else still for me to give”.

When the pandemic began, she knew she could help out. Whilst she didn’t feel confident returning to the wards because she has asthma, she knew when the COVID-19 Vaccination programme came along she had found her calling.

She now works two twelve hour shifts every week (getting up at 6am and arriving home at 9pm) at the Nightingale North East Hospital in Washington.

Avril said: “I feel like I am really helping out and I am very proud. It is a long day, but it is worthwhile and is something I can talk to the grandchildren about in the future as this is a moment in history.

“I found I got straight back into nursing, drawing up vaccines and the assessments. The best moments were when the older people came in January – some of them hadn’t been out for so long and they were all dressed up and so excited to be having the vaccine and talking to different people. They really enjoyed their trip out and they were so grateful”.

Avril is about to become Chair of the new Newcastle Hospitals branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship.

George Kempton

Photograph of George KemptonGeorge lives in North Devon and is about to be appointed as the new Chair of the NHS Retirement Fellowship.

He has spent most of lockdown working as a steward for the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination programme in a local leisure centre alongside his wife, Margaret.

George became involved in the programme through his local Rotary Club who were approached to find volunteers by a group of local GP practices.

He said his role has mainly been “to ensure that patients are safe and well after having the vaccination and can find their way out of the leisure centre, which can be very confusing!”

George added: “Well over 80% of those getting vaccinated have come up to us and said thank you for giving up your time and thank you for doing it. We really appreciate it and that has provided us with the motivation to keep going because the public recognise we are volunteers.

“I have learnt that the public are generally grateful for the opportunity to get vaccinated. Sometimes we think the younger people don’t appreciate it, but it has been surprising how many of the younger age group have come up and said thank you, and that was really pleasing”.

George has had a varied professional career; working in pathology, moving into training and education within the NHS and then consultancy nationally and internationally. He also sits on the NHS England, NHS Improvement and Age UK Policy Sounding Board.

Carol Hawkins

Photograph of Carol Hawkins Carol has worked in many hospitals across the south of England, mainly as an A&E nurse. At the start of the pandemic she was working as a bank nurse at her local urgent care centre in Sussex, but when attendances fell, due the pandemic, she found herself without work.

Carol said she joined the COVID-19 Vaccination programme as a vaccinator because “it is something I have never done before and wanted to be part of the scheme and use my nursing skills”.

She said: “For me the biggest gains were being able to take on such a challenge, having been retired, and feeling valuable.

“I’ve worked at about seven or eight different centres and will do anything from two to four shifts of five hours each. You never stop being a nurse and I’ve been able to use all my nursing skills to inform, reassure and help patients going through the system.

“It has been interesting to go to a non-medical site with people who don’t know each other from a variety of healthcare backgrounds. We work effectively in one big team and we’ve vaccinated hundreds of people. Nurses are flexible and resourceful, and the NHS has risen to the challenge.”

Sally Bishop

Photograph of Sally BishopSally initially wanted to help out by returning to the NHS in a frontline nursing role. When this was unable to happen, she decided to get involved with the COVID-19 Vaccination programme.

She works one to two shifts a week from 7.30am to 2pm and is based in the hospitality suite at the new Wimbledon Football Club stadium.

She described her motivation for getting involved as: “I was staying at home and I thought I’m multiskilled, having had lots of responsibility in my jobs, and I just wanted to help because it was such a desperate situation”.

Sally has enjoyed speaking with lots of clients and helping in a variety of ways, including reminding anaphylaxis patients to carry both antihistamines and epipens. She added: “I am working within a very good team which is well managed and very open to suggestions. I think I am the oldest in the team – although there is one doctor who has also come out of retirement”.

Sally trained as a nurse in 1970 and worked in community health services in Wandsworth and Central London. She is also Chair of the Sutton and District branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship.