The Daily Telegraph

NHS brings back volunteer chat to tackle loneliness

1,000 sign up to make calls after GPS report patients suffering more isolation following the pandemic

- By Laura Donnelly Health editor

VOLUNTEERS are being recruited by the NHS to phone people who are lonely, amid concern about increasing isolation since the pandemic.

The Check In and Chat scheme was introduced during the first lockdown to support those shielding or isolating.

It ended last May but is now to return after GPS said it could help those who have become more isolated.

More than 1,000 volunteers have signed up since recruitmen­t opened a week ago, and GPS, pharmacist­s, and other healthcare workers are being encouraged to request support for patients. They are given the option to request a one-off call or a series of calls.

Volunteers are asked to provide a listening ear as well as helping patients “explore positive changes they could make to their lives”.

Health chiefs said the decision to bring back the service follows concern from profession­als that many of their patients were not as socially connected as they had been before the pandemic.

A survey of health profession­als found three quarters wanted to see the return of the service, which at its peak involved 50,000 volunteers.

Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England, said: “We are extremely grateful to our incredible volunteers who support the NHS and the British public. It is fantastic that more than 1,000 volunteers have now signed up again to provide these invaluable calls for patients and to help our staff in providing the best care possible.”

Prof Sir Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director, said: “Volunteers played a vital role in helping us deliver the biggest and most successful vaccinatio­n programme in health history and … continue to help us to save lives.

“NHS health teams can refer patients to this fantastic service which offers a listening ear and, where appropriat­e, can explore positive changes they could make to their lives, for example to connect with others, become more physically active or to learn new skills or volunteer themselves.”

Catherine Johnstone, the chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: “We are proud to be working with NHS England to deliver this innovative volunteer programme.”

Meena Ram, 54, a civil servant from Birmingham signed up as an NHS Volunteer Responder in 2020, and offered her time for Check in and Chat volunteeri­ng whenever she got a chance.

“Volunteeri­ng is what got me through the pandemic,” she said.

Ms Ram is now signing back up for the reintroduc­tion of the Check In and Chat service. She said: “I absolutely love volunteeri­ng and find it very fulfilling.

“Some of the people who use the Check in and Chat service might not hear from anyone else at all in that day or even that week, and it can be very touching to hear how grateful they are and very moving to hear their stories.”

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