Two-thirds of the 600,000 people who were accepted on to the NHS volunteer responders scheme have not yet done a task – more than a month after it was launched, according to figures seen by The Independent.
When Matt Hancock appealed for 250,000 people in England to volunteer to help bolster the NHS response to the pandemic, 405,000 people responded to the call within 24 hours – a number the prime minister equated to the population of Coventry as he told them they would be “absolutely crucial” to the fight against the coronavirus.
The number of volunteers required was increased and more than three-quarters of a million people signed up within a week, 600,000 of whom were approved to help in the scheme.
However, only around 200,000 tasks have been requested from volunteers as of 22 May, a Royal Voluntary Service spokesperson told The Independent, meaning at least 400,000 people have still not done their first task – potentially more if some volunteers have helped out more than once.
James Chetwode was approved to help in the NHS Volunteer Responder Scheme but says he has not been given a task to do yet.
“I live in rural Dorset and quite a few friends in my village have signed up and no one has had anything,” the 44-year-old tells The Independent.
He says lots of volunteering was already going on in his community before the app was launched, so more obvious tasks like food and pharmacy deliveries were already covered. He says he was working to support local businesses during the pandemic, so felt he was still able to volunteer.
Chetwode shared an image of his profile with The Independent, which shows he has clocked more than 1,000 hours of volunteering – although he claims he had not helped anyone out through the scheme yet.
Nina Sandelson, from London, applied to be a Check in and Chat volunteer to call people at risk of loneliness during the pandemic.
She shared a rejection email with The Independent, which says her registration or identification could not be verified, but did not specify what went wrong with her application.
The 23-year-old says she was surprised to hear she was not accepted onto the scheme, as she believed her personal details to have been accurate.
Kim Berisha, a 24-year-old from London, says the same thing happened to her.
“As someone who works in mental health with an up-to-date DBS certificate, I was keen to be a Check in and Chat Volunteer,” she tells The Independent.
“I was surprised when my application was rejected since I had submitted all the necessary documents and felt I had relevant experience.”
Volunteers can help deliver medicines from pharmacies, drive patients to appointments, bring them home from hospital and transport medical supplies and equipment for the NHS.
They can also offer to make regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home who are at-risk of loneliness while staying at home during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Health professionals, pharmacists and local authorities can upload requests for help on the NHS Volunteer Responders referrer’s portal, and volunteers can accept jobs that show up in their local area.
Volunteers show themselves as available when their app is switched to “on duty”.
Rebecca Kennelly, the director of volunteering at the Royal Voluntary Service, says they are grateful for everyone who has signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder.
“We have an army of brilliant volunteers in every village, town and city, who are on-call and ready for an alert to come through at any time,” she says.
“Because of this extraordinary network, that we can very proudly say that 98 per cent of all calls are responded to within two hours.
“The number of people calling on volunteers for support is increasing every day – it is incredibly reassuring to those vulnerable people who are in need, and we are encouraging anyone in need of support to seek help and self-refer by calling 0808 196 3646.”
Ms Kennelly adds: “Volunteering has never been so critical. As members of families, social groups and communities go back to work as lockdown restrictions ease, the support of our volunteers will continue to be needed.”
NHS England has been approached for comment.