The government has launched an urgent appeal for 250,000 volunteers to help the NHS in the battle against coronavirus.

As the UK death toll rose to 422 overnight, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, urged people to come forward to help the most vulnerable who are unable to leave their homes.

Around 1.5 million vulnerable people have been told to stay inside for 12 weeks to shield them from the virus, including those with certain cancers and severe respiratory illnesses.

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Mr Hancock also asked the wider public for their “forbearance” in dealing with strict curbs to their freedom and urged them to stay inside except under limited circumstances.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, he said: “I know how worried people are and while this is a great time of turbulence, it is a moment too that the country can come together in that national effort.

“As the next step in that effort, today we launch NHS volunteers. We are seeking a quarter of million volunteers - people in good health - to help the NHS, for shopping, in delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health.”

More than 11,700 retired doctors, nurses and health professional have returned to the NHS following a government appeal for medics to return to the front line, Mr Hancock confirmed.

In addition, 5,500 final year medics and 18,700 final year student nurses will begin working in the NHS next week.

The health secretary also confirmed plans to transform London’s Excel Centre into an emergency hospital, known as the NHS Nightingale Hospital, with capacity to treat 4,000 coronavirus patients.

Mr Hancock said: “No matter how big we grow the NHS, unless we slow the spread of this virus, as we’ve seen, those numbers will begin to rise.

“That’s why it is so important that everybody follows the advice and stays at home.

He also expressed his thanks to hard-working NHS staff, saying: “Not just the doctors and nurses who normally get mentioned but the pharmacists, the paramedics, the managers, all staff across the board.

“You are the front line in this war against this virus and we all pay tribute to you.

“You are going to give your all over the next few weeks and I want you to know that we salute you and I will strain every sinew to get you everything you need to keep you safe so that you can do your job keeping all of us safe.”

Volunteers will be asked to support the NHS by delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments and bringing them home from hospital or making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. 

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will be able to request help for at-risk patients via a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), who will match people who need help with nearby volunteers.

Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS director of primary care, said: “Coronavirus is the biggest challenge we have ever faced, which is why we’re rallying the troops and telling the public: your NHS needs you.”

She added: “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments where a single action from one person can be the difference between life and death for another, and simple acts of kindness are going to make all the difference in keeping some of the most vulnerable people well and out of hospital.

“NHS staff are pulling out all the stops to ensure those who need care receive it, and creating a bank of helpers that they can call upon to support their most vulnerable patients through this difficult time is going to be invaluable, so I would urge anyone who can to sign up as an NHS Volunteer Responder today.”

People can register as an NHS volunteer here: https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS.

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