Drive for 250,000-strong ‘volunteer army’ to boost the NHS

The news came as Mr Hancock held a press conference in Downing Street – although the questions were posed over video link as part of new government guidelines to stop spread.


Matt Hancock held a press conference in Downing Street today - although the questions were posed over video link as part of new government guidelines to stop spread

Matt Hancock holding press conference

Mr Hancock said his ‘heart goes out’ to families of those who had died, after it was announced that the UK’s  toll had jumped to 422 in the biggest daily rise yet.

The Cabinet minister said of the government’s draconian new lockdown: ‘They are not requests, they are rules… everyone has a responsibility to follow those rules and where possible stay at home.’

On another day of frantic twists and turns in the coronavirus crisis:

  • Builders across the UK have said they feel ‘angry and unprotected’ as they continued working on busy construction sites
  • Britain was placed under new draconian measures which to keep people indoors, including allowing outside exercise only once a day, social gatherings of more than two people banned, and non-essential travel prohibited, with police handed powers to slap offenders with fines;
  • Londoners continued to cram into packed Tube carriages during this morning’s rush-hour, with union chiefs calling on Sadiq Khan to get a grip of the capital’s public transport;
  • The Mayor of London came under fire for blaming commuters for flouting advice over non-essential travel;
  • Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded more NHS workers were tested for coronavirus, which has killed 335 and infected 6650 in the UK;
  • Supermarket websites crashed and delivery slots were booked solid for weeks as lockdown begun;
  • Sports Direct insisted it was providing an essential service and tried to open it stores, but was forced to U-turn under pressure from the government;
  • The FTSE 100 opened up 4 per cent as investors seemingly took confidence in the PM’s measures.

Unveiling the ‘NHS Volunteers’ drive, Mr Hancock said: ‘We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health.’

He said 11,788 recently retired NHS staff had responded to the appeal from the government to return to the service.

They included 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses. ‘I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need,’ Mr Hancock said.

Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses would ‘move to the frontline’ next week.

Eighty-three more patients died overnight in England, including 21 at the one NHS trust in London. Scotland also announced two fatalities, while Wales had one more death.

As of 1pm yesterday there had been 335 coronavirus deaths. Northern Ireland’s update that one more patient had died last night was not included in yesterday’s official toll.

Britain also saw a record spike in cases, with more than 8,000 patients now known to have the infection. But the true toll is likely to be closer to the 400,000 mark, scientists say.

It comes as police officers were today forced to break up barbecues being held in different parts of the UK as Brits flouted new draconian powers to disperse crowds of more than two to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Hancock said the new makeshift hospital at the ExCel centre would be called the NHS Nightingale Hospital and would be open by next week.

He said it would have two wards and have a capacity for 4,000 people. It is understood it will be up and running by Saturday 4th April.He said: ‘We will next week open a new hospital, a temporary hospital.

With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians we will make sure we have the capacity we need so that everyone can get the support they need.

‘But no matter how big we grow the NHS unless we slow the spread of this virus then as we have seen those numbers will continue to rise and that is why it is so important everyone follows the advice and stays at home.’

Mr Hancock also delivered a stinging rebuke to the London Mayor saying the underground system should be running ‘in full’ so essential workers do not have to be close together.

The jibe came after another day of chaotic scenes in the capital where ‘health hazard’ carriages were rammed despite the unprecedented shutdown of British society.

But Mr Khan has blamed commuters for flouting a ban on ‘all non-essential travel’ and urged people to avoid rush hour ‘to save lives’ – claiming he does not have enough staff to return services to normal.

Mr Hancock went on the attack as he was asked at a Downing Street press conference this evening why NHS staff and other key workers were being forced to put themselves at risk on crowded transport.

He said: ‘When it comes to the Tube, the first and the best answer is that Transport for London should have the Tube running in full so that people travelling on the tube are spaced out and can be further apart – obeying the two-metre rule wherever possible.

‘And there is no good reason in the information that I’ve seen that the current levels of tube provision should be as low as they are. We should have more tube trains running.’

In Scotland, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone yesterday refused to rule out forcing people to  carry ‘papers’ as proof that they are moving around for legitimate reasons, such as being a ‘key worker’.


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