GPs are now able to refer at-risk or self-isolating individuals to NHS Volunteer Responders, NHS England has announced.
The scheme, which the Government announced on 24 March, was looking for up to 250,000 volunteers, but saw 750,000 people sign up in less than one week.
The volunteers can help patients with tasks such as collecting medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments, and regularly checking in via phone call.
The service is currently only available to support patients living in England, and priority will be given to those identified as most at risk.
Referrals can be made via the online referral portal, or by calling 0808 196 3382. The referrer should indicate the type of support and frequency required. The referral will then be matched to a volunteer, who can then accept the request.
Matching has begun from Wednesday 1 April.
While it is suggested health professionals refer patients directly, GPs are able to share the phone number for self-referrals if the patient is in the high-risk group.
All volunteers are ID checked, and patient transport drivers will need an enhanced DBS check. All volunteers will receive detailed guidance to provide safe support.
In the announcement, NHS England said: ‘NHS Volunteer Responders can be asked to help individuals with tasks such as delivering medicines from pharmacies; driving patients to appointments; bringing them home from hospital; and regular phone calls to check they are ok.’
It also said the service is ‘not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours but is an additional service provided by the NHS where informal support is not available’.