More than 1,000 volunteers sign up to call vulnerable or lonely patients

NHS health teams are to refer patients for phone calls from a Check in and Chat Service
NHS health teams are to refer patients for phone calls from a Check in and Chat Service

More than a thousand people have signed up to provide friendly phone calls from the NHS for vulnerable, isolated or lonely patients in England.

GPs, pharmacists and other healthcare workers are being asked to look out for patients who could do with the boost of a phone call or are in need of a bit of encouragement via Check in and Chat service.

A one-off call or a series of chats are on offer as the service – which was originally set up during the pandemic to help people who were self-isolating with simple tasks such as shopping, fetching medication and lifts to medical appointments – returns.

NHS England said the decision to bring back the service came after GPs and other healthcare workers spotted that many of their patients were not as socially connected as they had been before the pandemic.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “It is fantastic that over a thousand volunteers have now signed up again to provide these invaluable calls for patients that are vulnerable, isolated or lonely, and to help our staff in providing the best care possible.

“It is very easy for GPs, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers to refer patients to the Check in and Chat service through a simple online platform – and we know what a difference a neighbourly phone call can make if you’re feeling isolated or in need of some support.”

Some 2.2 million support tasks for people who were the most vulnerable to Covid-19 were carried out by 400,000 on-duty volunteers after the scheme was originally launched in 2020. It also helped to cover more than 360,000 steward volunteer shifts at vaccination sites across England.

Meena Ram, 54, of Birmingham – who has signed back up as a volunteer because it is “very fulfilling”, said: “Some of the people that use the Check in and Chat service might not hear from anyone else at all in that day or even that week and it can be very touching to hear how grateful they are and very moving to hear their stories.”

NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said the value of a volunteer could be seen as the nation had to deliver its “biggest and most successful vaccination programme in health history”.

He added: “NHS health teams can refer patients to this fantastic service which offers a listening ear and, where appropriate, explore positive changes they could make to their lives, for example to connect with others, become more physically active or to learn new skills or volunteer themselves.”

The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) is in charge of the volunteer responders scheme, along with the GoodSAM smart phone app for NHS England.

It provides a pool of volunteers that are linked tasks in their community who can help health teams and respond to future emergencies.

RVS chief executive Catherine Johnstone said: “Thousands of incredible volunteer responders supported their communities through the pandemic, and now the timely relaunch of Check in and Chat will once again provide support to those that need it most, over the challenging months ahead.”

Practitioners can go online – GoodSAM (goodsamapp.org) – to register patients.