405,000 people have stepped up to Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s call for NHS volunteers to fight against COVID 19.
On Tuesday 24th March, Health Secretary Matt Hancock launched NHS volunteers, calling for 250,000 members of the public to support people who are unable to leave their homes during the current coronavirus pandemic.
A day later and Hancock’s call was indeed answered. Within just 24 hours, over 400,000 people answered the call to be a NHS volunteer.
What is the volunteer scheme?
The volunteers will aid the NHS and local services through the delivery of shopping and medicines to over 1.5 million people who have to self-isolate for 12 weeks. They can also transfer patients back to their home, medical supplies to NHS sites or provide companionship over the phone to people at risk of loneliness. Hancock also announced that an extra 35,000 staff, including final-year medical students and retired doctors and nurses, are adding to the fight against COVID 19.
What does this tell us about the current state of our NHS? Understaffed and insufficient in times of crisis. COVID 19 bares all for the British public to see if they did not previously know. The needs of the general public are growing, and the NHS must grow alongside it, otherwise it will be left behind.
Do they really know what they are getting themselves into?
Twitter user “@HiddenV17831091asked @MattHancock “Why are medical staff in China wearing full PPI kit and #NHS workers don’t even have masks. Will you provide volunteers with protection? – is there still a #MASKSHORTAGE#PPEShortages Will our families receive compensation if we die volunteering due to government negligence?”
Volunteers are almost casually walking into a suicide mission when the politicians themselves are not doing the same. This comes after the Doctors Association and The Royal College of Nursing both say their members are being asked to take ‘unacceptable risks’. A spokesperson said ‘nursing staff should never be forced to choose between their safety and their livelihood’.
Staff in the NHS do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which include: masks, visors and suits to protect them against droplets of water in sneezes and coughs of an infected patient. Only now are 3.5 million coronavirus tests also being sent to the NHS, and over 7 million pieces of PPE shipped. This is the equivalent of going into a fire stark naked and not expecting third-degree burns. The NHS needs more money to ensure the volunteers, and the already existing staff are protected. If the current NHS staff are not adequately protected, how will the government ensure the protection extends in the same way to volunteers?
Monday 23rd March, NHS nurse Areema Nasreen was put into critical care after contracting coronavirus, in the hospital where she was a nurse for 16 years. This highlights the threat at hand for workers and volunteers alike.
A letter published in the Sunday Times, signed by almost 4,000 NHS workers, alerted the Health Secretary to the harrowing fact that some workers have to share masks, filters and even cutlery. Some workers have reported working up to 36-hour shifts.
On Good Morning Britain, NHS worker Lorraine revealed she would have to share filters for masks with other colleagues treating patients with COVID-1. She put the blame firmly on Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
What will happen next?
Admiration for the hearts and attitudes of the 405,000 should not cloud what this exposes: the vast understaffing and under-appreciation of the NHS. Many of us take the NHS for granted. In some countries, healthcare is considered a privilege only afforded to the wealthy. Whilst the NHS has its problems we are fortunate to have it at our disposal.
If the government had enough time to hire more staff for the incoming virus, it could have had time to better prepare and to stem the flow of the virus. Under Tory governing, the NHS has been compromised through rapid and ruthless privatisation and underfunding.
COVID 19 has unearthed the sheer power of the British community, one that is united in a common enemy. It has demonstrated the best in humanity, encapsulated through these 405,000 volunteers. Their effort is something to be applauded. Thanks to the incredible response, the NHS has now extended its target to 750,000 people. Your NHS needs your respect and support 365 days a year. More and more everyday people are coming into contact with how the service works practically over the coming weeks could generate a new wave of appreciation, or at least awareness of it’s vulnerability.