UK calls retired NHS workers and medical students to fight COVID-19

Retired doctors and nurses and final year medical students are urged by the UK Government to return to work to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 65,000 retired UK NHS healthcare workers are being asked to help in the fight against COVID-19. Medical students and student nurses are also being called upon to boost the coronavirus frontline.

Retired Doctors and Nurses to rejoin NHS

The former NHS doctors and nurses have been asked to rejoin the health service as the United Kingdom is escalating its combat strategy against the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Letters will be sent to clinicians who have retired or left their positions in the last three years, and who have up-to-date knowledge and experience.

The Secretary of State for Health & Social Care Matt Hancock tweeted:

The retired medical staff can fill a range of clinical and non-clinical roles across the NHS, including person-to-person roles as well as running the NHS 111 phone line. Nurses, midwives, doctors, allied healthcare professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians willing to return to work will be able to ‘opt in’ to a register and fill positions based on their skills and time away from practice. It is not expected that former clinicians who are more vulnerable to coronavirus are going to return.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS, said:

“By offering to return to the NHS now, these thousands of well-qualified and compassionate people will make more of a difference than ever before – not just to patients, but to colleagues and the wider community.”

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is writing out to more than 50,000 nurses whose registration has lapsed in the last three years. The General Medical Council will write to another 15,500 doctors who have left the register since 2017.

Training rolled out to bring retired clinicians up to speed

Matt Hancock said those with recent experience in the NHS would be able to rejoin immediately. But for others with less recent experience refresher courses would be organised to get them up to speed. He added:

“From those I’ve talked to, I think people can see just how important this is. The training will happen for those who need it over the next couple of weeks, at the same time we’ll allocate people to a hospital near them because there’s a logistical exercise here as well.”

Medical Students to join COVID-19 defence line

Medical students and student nurses in their final year will also be urged to take temporary, fully paid roles to strengthen frontline staffing.

On Thursday 19 March, the NMC chief nursing officers of the four UK countries, and the Council of Deans of Health, as well as health trade unions, issued the call for “students in the final six months of their undergraduate course to work under supervision in hospitals wards and other parts of the NHS.”

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.

Former clinicians fight COVID-19

A number of parliamentarians have said they are returning to the NHS frontline. Amongst them is Conservative MP for Lewes in East Sussex Maria Caulfield, who will return to work as a nurse, alongside her political role.

Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP for Wrexham, also stated she is going back and shared the link to the NMC registration page.


More than 400,000 people in the UK have volunteered to support the NHS by shopping for vulnerable people in self-isolation, driving patients, transporting goods and staying in touch with those who are lonely. The response was far ahead of the target of 250,000 set by health secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday evening (March 24), which has now been reset to 750,000.