UK to add 35,000 NHS staff to fight coronavirusMegan Orito
UK to add 35,000 NHS staff to fight coronavirus.
Retired doctors and nurses and ‘volunteer army’ to join the battle against surging disease.
The UK is to pour 35,000 extra staff into the National Health Service and launch a national volunteer army to cope with the surge in coronavirus infections.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, also announced on Tuesday that a pop-up hospital providing 4,000 beds would open in London as the NHS prepared for a significant increase in diagnoses. He confirmed 422 people have now died from the virus in the UK, an increase of 87 in one day. By Tuesday, 8,077 Britons had tested positive for the disease.
Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Hancock heralded the major rise in NHS staffing over the coming days as 11,788 retired medical staffers will return to work, including 2,660 doctors and 6,147 nurses. In addition, 5,500 final year medical students and 18,000 nursing students will be moved into the front line.
He reiterated Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s message to the nation on Monday evening that stringent lockdown measures must be followed to slow the spread of the virus. “These steps are not requests. They are rules, you should stay at home,” he said. “The more we follow the rules, the sooner we stop the spread.”
Mr Hancock launched “NHS Volunteers”, calling for a quarter of a million volunteers to assist the health service in coping with extra demand from coronavirus. The government is seeking “people in good health” to help deliver food and medicine, move supplies and speak to those in self-isolation.
To help meet the demand for care, the ExCel conference centre in London’s Docklands will be converted into the “Nightingale Hospital” providing 4,000 new beds for coronavirus patients. The cavernous venue will function as a temporary care centre, easing pressure on hospitals across the capital.
“With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need so that everyone can get the support that they need,” Mr Hancock said.
The ExCel conference centre in London’s Docklands © Andy Rain/EPA
The Nightingale is the first in a series of new hospitals being created across the country to accommodate the increasing numbers of coronavirus patients needing ventilation. The ExCel facility will be run by the NHS, but military personnel are providing engineering and logistics support to get the hospital up and running. It will initially open with 500 beds but will comprise two wards of 2,000 beds each within the next few weeks.
The pop-up hospital is the latest in a series of deployments by the military’s “Covid Defence Force”, which has 2,000 personnel on standby within 24 hours and a further 1,500 within 48 hours. So far, just over 700 have been mobilised for a range of activities, from supplying protective equipment to hospitals to delivering oxygen to intensive care wards. The force is also helping local resilience forums with logistics in delivering food and medicine to vulnerable people who are being shielded from the virus.
Meanwhile, a row broke out between Sadiq Khan, London mayor, and the Johnson government over the mayor’s decision to scale back services on the Tube as rush hour trains were packed with commuters for the second day.
Mr Hancock said: “There is no reason I’ve seen why the level of Tube provision should be as low as it is,” he said. He urged Mr Khan, who chairs Transport for London, to increase the number of services.
But Mr Khan has warned that the reduction in service levels had been caused by a staff absentee level of between 20 and 30 per cent on the Underground caused by the virus, meaning it was not safe to run extra trains.
Although Mr Johnson has faced criticism for not acting faster to close non-essential shops and restrict the movement of people, initial signs suggested there are record levels of support for his tough new measures. A snap poll by YouGov on Tuesday said 93 per cent of Britons supported the lockdown, including significant support across all ages, sexes and political persuasions.
The prime minister’s personal approval ratings also saw a double-digit rise. “There’s a bit of a “rallying around the flag” effect going on,” said Anthony Wells, director of UK politics at YouGov. “People generally don’t give politicians the benefit of the doubt, but this is different.”
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