NHS 'volunteer army' could be set up in Northern Ireland

A volunteer in Rome delivering milk. People could be asked to volunteer to help the NHS in Northern Ireland. Picture by Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

An army of volunteers could be set up to support the NHS in Northern Ireland during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Health in England had launched a call for volunteers on Tuesday under the banner 'Your NHS Needs You'.

Within just two days, more than 750,000 people signed up to volunteer for the NHS across England.

Now the north's Department of Health has said it is looking at how volunteers can help support the NHS here.

READ MORE: An Post workers to help distribute food and medicine in Republic

A spokesman for the department said it is "working with the Department for Communities to establish a pathway for volunteers to support health and social care in Northern Ireland, in the most effective and safe way possible during this unprecedented time".

Under the English scheme, anyone who is over the age of 18, fit and healthy and who does not have symptoms of the virus can offer their time.

Volunteer jobs include helping to deliver shopping to vulnerable people, transporting patients to and from hospital, taking medicines and equipment to NHS facilities and telephoning isolated people to make sure they are well.

Any scheme in the north is expected to be set up along the same lines.

In the Republic, An Post workers are to help distribute food and medicine during the outbreak.

The departmental spokesman said the health service in the north urgently needs more healthcare staff.

"That is why all health and social care professionals who have either temporarily or permanently left the NHS in the last three years, have been contacted and asked if they would wish to come back," he said.

"COVID-19 will put huge additional demand on our HSC and our fellow citizens.

"By offering to return to the HSC, the people coming forward now are making an immense difference, not just to patients, but to colleagues and the wider community.

"More former staff are coming forward each day, and for all the others still considering it I would urge them to visit the Department of Health website for more information."

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