Over 600,000 volunteers across England have been approved to help patients most at risk from COVID-19 and who are isolating at home. The volunteers are supporting vulnerable patients by collecting shopping, medication or other essentials and undertaking a phone 'check in and chat' service to help prevent loneliness.
GPs and other NHS staff, along with local authority and social care workers, have been able to refer individuals to the programme for the past two weeks. However, from today the 1.5m patients in England that GP practices have verified as being at-risk and who are 'shielding' can self-refer to the scheme.
The volunteer initiative, which is being run by charities the Royal Voluntary Service and GoodSAM on behalf of NHS England, will provide extra support to any people who need it. However, all other patients will still need to be referred to the scheme by an NHS, local authority or social care worker.
NHS England said that so far volunteers have carried out around 35,000 tasks including delivering shopping and medicines and calling to check on those isolating at home. In some areas volunteers have also taken blood pressure monitors or other equipment to patients' homes to enable healthcare staff to monitor their health remotely.
Last week, NHS England medical director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani apologised to GPs over the way it has handled identifying patients who need to 'shield' during the coronavirus outbreak. GP practices had received a series of tight deadlines for verifying lists of their high-risk patients, which had been pulled together centrally using primary care and hospital data.
GPs are due to receive a list of any patients who have self-identified as being at high risk on the government website by Friday and they are expected to verify this list by the end of Tuesday 28 April. NHS England has predicted that the numbers involved will be 'very small', given the work that practices have already done to identify patients needing to shield.
Patients can self refer to the volunteer scheme by calling 0808 1963646 between 8am and 8pm – this is a different number to the phone number clinicians should call if they are referring patients.
If GPs want to refer shielded patients, or any other patient, to the scheme they can do this online here https://goodsamapp.org/NHSreferral or by calling 0808 196 3382.