By Arj Singh
More than 400,000 people have answered a call to volunteer for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic in 24 hours, Boris Johnson has announced.
The prime minister thanked the 405,000 who have helped the government exceed its target of 250,000 volunteers in just one day.
GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will all be able to request help for at-risk patients through a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service, which will match people who need help with volunteers who live near them.
Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “They will be driving medicines from pharmacies to patients; they will be bringing patients home from hospital; very importantly they will be making regular phone calls to check on and support people who are staying on their own at home.
“And they will be absolutely crucial in the fight against this virus.
“That is already in one day as many volunteers as the population of Coventry.
“And to all of you, and to all the NHS staff who are coming back to the service, I say thank you on behalf of the entire country.”
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More than 35,000 extra NHS staff have also answered the call to help the UK fight the virus.
The number includes more than 11,000 recently retired health professionals – some 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses.
Around 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses will also “move to the frontline” next week.
I’m so proud of the British public. Within 24 hours, 405,000 people have answered the call to be an NHS volunteer. All part of the national effort to tackle #coronavirus.
Thank you – each and every one. pic.twitter.com/Y3eTabfBlx
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) March 25, 2020
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick meanwhile confirmed that councils had agreed to provide free car parking for NHS and social care workers during the crisis.
They will be able to park in street parking bays and council-owned car parks without worrying about cost or time restrictions.
“It’s a small gesture of our gratitude to those working round the clock to save lives,” Jenrick said.
— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) March 25, 2020
At the press conference, Johnson said the country is coping “very well” in the face of the “most challenging circumstances”.
Replying to a question about how well the UK was coping, Johnson said that “never in our history has the government put its arms around people in the way we are doing now to help them get through this time”.
He added that a tailored package of support would be announced on Thursday to help self-employed people.
The PM said: “I do think when you look at the sheer scale of what the government is doing to get this country through, we will cope and are coping very well indeed under the most challenging possible circumstances.
“To come out of it well together, as I know we can, we all need to follow the instructions the government have given and to stay at home, protect the NHS and that’s the way to save lives.”