From today pharmacy teams can request support from NHS volunteers who signed up to help England’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the government has confirmed. 

All frontline health and care staff will be able to access NHS Volunteers responders help, who will be able to assist in doing socially-distanced tasks, including food deliveries.

All pharmacy team members will be able to access the additional support, DH confirmed to the Pharmacist. 

The government has said it hopes the extension of the scheme will reduce the chances of health and care staff of contracting the virus, by minimising their exposure outside of work. 

The government also hopes that offering staff this extra help will provide them with more time to care for patients. 

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said:The NHS Volunteer Responders have played a vital role in our response to coronavirus, and I am hugely thankful for their support. Their selfless efforts to protect those who need to shield or self-isolate has helped stop the spread of the virus and alleviated pressure on health and care services during this unprecedented pandemic.

‘Following the success of the volunteers scheme, support is now being extended to all our wonderful health and care staff who continue to go above and beyond.

‘We want to support them in whatever way we can to make their lives easier while they continue to support others most in need,’ she added.

The scheme began in early April, and has so far been focused on supporting members of the public who are shielding or isolating at home, or those who have care responsibilities. 

Volunteers have been asked to carry out simple, non-medical tasks, such as helping people pick up essential items, deliver blood pressure monitors to patients or transporting small quantities of PPE to care homes. 

Pharmacies have been using the service by requesting help with a variety of tasks, including medicines deliveries. 

However, in May, pharmacies were barely using the free service. According to Emma Easton, head of voluntary partnerships at NHS England, out of the 111,000 tasks had been completed by volunteers, only 5% of those had come from pharmacy. 

When the service was first implemented, some pharmacists expressed concerns, with some saying they did not feel comfortable using NHS volunteers to deliver medicines. NHS volunteers were not DBS checked, and therefore contractors would be responsible for ensuring safety checks on any NHS volunteers they worked with.

Some pharmacy contractors even suggested that the scheme prioritised saving money over the safety of patients and pharmacy staff.