Tens of thousands of retired nurses and doctors have been asked to answer the call to help tackle the coronavirus by returning to the NHS at a time of crisis.
As 144 people have so far died after contracting Covid-19 and 3,269 people have tested positive for the virus, the pandemic sweeping the UK is thought to be the worst public health crisis since the Spanish flu in 1918.
Letters are being sent to more than 65,000 nurses and doctors who have gone into retirement, with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) sending out 50,000 letters to retired nurses and nurses whose registration has lapsed in the last three years and the General Medical Council (GMC) sending out letters to 15,000 doctors who have left since 2017.
Speaking to the BBC, health secretary Matt Hancock said he believed many nurses and doctors would be able to start straight away.
“Imagine if you’ve left at Christmas, for instance, you can restart straight away,” he said. “For others who have been out for a little bit longer, they may need more of a refresher because, of course, it’s vital that we keep people safe, that’s the whole point of the NHS.”
The NMC is also working to change the nature of the programme for undergraduate nursing students so that those finishing their studies can opt to take the final six months as a paid clinical placement.
The NMC said it will begin by focusing on recruiting those who’ve left the register in the last three years but will also reach out to those currently on the register but who do not at present work in clinical care.
Health unions including Unite have joined in the call to support retired nurses who wish to return to the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus epidemic. Trade unions representing nurses have pledged to provide members with information of the development and implementation of guidance, ensuring individual choice is paramount with the context of emergency measures.
Unions will also negotiate employment terms and conditions within emergency measures and support their registered nurse members in non-clinical roles who may be willing to return to clinical practice during the emergency where appropriate.
A joint statement from unions, the NMC, the department of health and social care, deans of health and chief nursing officers read, “We recognise that these are difficult and worrying times for everyone involved. We know that some of you are fearful for the future in this unprecedented situation.
“However, we also know that as skilled, dedicated professionals, nurses will want to rise to the challenge. We need to work together and support each other and that way we will get through this, providing the care and support patients and the public will need.”
Commenting on the latest development, Unite lead officer for regulation Jane Beach said, “We are facing the worst public health emergency in the UK since the ‘Spanish’ flu at the end of the First World War. This is the supreme public health battle of our generation.
“Unprecedented events demand flexible and rapid responses, that’s why we are strongly supporting this call by the chief nursing officers of the four UK countries, the NMC and the health trade unions.
“We know that making changes to the way student nurses are educated in the last few months is an extreme measure, but we believe it is commensurate with the challenge we, as a society, face and so is the right thing to do,” she added.
“We thank our student nurse members for their feedback, which has informed our response to the discussions.
“We will be communicating with our members who have recently retired or left nursing to encourage them to consider coming back to help out during this national emergency.
“It is important to stress that for all, this is a choice. The detail will be in the guidance and we will continue to be involved in the development of this and in monitoring the implementation.”