In these unprecedented and challenging times, we need to do everything we can to support our health and social care systems. The Coronavirus Act 2020 was enacted last month and introduces provision for new statutory emergency volunteering leave, to support health and social care authorities. The Coronavirus Act 2020 includes a number of emergency measures to give ministers powers to take action at the appropriate time to respond effectively to the progress of the coronavirus outbreak.

The measures in the Act are temporary, proportionate to the threat, only to be used when strictly necessary and will be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation. They are intended to protect life and the nation's public health and ensure NHS and social care staff are supported to deal with significant extra pressure on the health system.

They fall into 5 key categories:

  • containing and slowing the virus
  • easing legislative and regulatory requirements
  • enhancing capacity and the flexible deployment of staff across essential services
  • managing the deceased in a dignified way
  • supporting and protecting the public to do the right thing and follow public health advice

In particular, we have been speaking to advisers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the new emergency volunteering leave and how organisations can support this. We are part of a number of business groups who are being consulted thoroughly about how best to implement these changes.

Three-quarters of a million volunteers have already signed up to support the NHS and recruitment has temporarily paused in order to process this. However, more volunteers will be needed and specific roles in different areas of the country will be highlighted for volunteers.

Volunteers who already play a central role in helping the health and social care system function will be given additional employment safeguards so they can leave their main jobs and temporarily volunteer in the event that our health and social care systems need urgent support.

Around three million individuals currently volunteer in a health, community health or social care setting. The Government wants to be able to maximise the number of volunteers and the amount of time they can commit to supporting the health and social care system – without fear of them losing their jobs. Under these proposed measures, the Government will ensure the jobs of skilled, experienced or qualified volunteers are protected for up to four weeks to allow them to shore up resilience across the health and social care systems.

The leave will be unpaid and volunteers will be asked to register with their local authority so that their skills and capabilities can be matched to a volunteering position. They will be given a certificate which they will need to share with their employer, giving 3 working days' notice.

Coronavirus - NHS volunteers

The NHS in England has already launched its site for volunteers to register and has temporarily paused recruitment to process the initial 750,000 applicants. Further information will follow at:

Volunteers will be asked to do one of the following four types of volunteering:

  • delivering medicines from pharmacies
  • driving patients to appointments
  • bringing them home from hospital
  • making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home

In Wales, volunteers can contact their local councils or register on the Volunteering Wales website and, in Scotland, via Volunteers Scotland.

Further information

Once the plans for EVL have been finalised we will update our Members and create a dedicated page on our Coronavirus hub.

For more information see: 

Emergency bill to strengthen coronavirus (Covid-19) response plans

Coronavirus: Emergency volunteering leave - UK

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

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