Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2020: Dr Who?

The hidden army: how a GP-patient volunteer group responded to covid-19

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 15 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4678
  1. Chris Jenner, GP partner1,
  2. Carly Szasz, GP partner1,
  3. Jacqui Martin, chair of Elliott Hall Medical Centre Patients’ Association2,
  4. Laura Herman, volunteer locality steward3,
  5. Josh Bekhor, 4th year medical student4
  1. 1Elliott Hall Medical Centre, Harrow, London, UK
  2. 2Elliott Hall Medical Centre Patients’ Association
  3. 3EHMC Patient Heroes Project
  4. 4GKT School of Medical Education, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Chris Jenner chris.jenner{at}
  2. @elliotthallmc

When the UK government declared a national lockdown on 23 March 2020, staff at Elliott Hall Medical Centre in Harrow recognised that many of their vulnerable patients would find it difficult to cope. To help them, the practice called on volunteers within its patient community to assist. Here they describe what they did and how they continue to work with patient volunteers in the next phase of the pandemic.

Chris Jenner, Carly Szasz, Jacqui Martin

Setting up a volunteer-to-patient matching project

With the onset of lockdown, our senior management team (lead GPs, nurse practitioner, and management support) started to link vulnerable patients with volunteers. Elliott Hall Medical Centre serves 11 250 people in Harrow, north west London, including one of the largest populations of older people in the area. The practice had a “supportive care register” (that comprised 3.5% of its total list) of patients who were considered vulnerable. Initially we planned to focus on this group, who were most likely to experience difficulties related to lockdown, such as in obtaining medications or food provisions. We sent a text message to all patients aged 18-65 who would not normally be eligible to receive an annual flu vaccination, and invited volunteers to help support vulnerable patients in the practice. We chose this cohort as they were not themselves self-isolating and were likely to be at relatively low risk of complications if they contracted covid-19.

The response was heartening. We received 268 offers of assistance, including several from medical students, some formerly attached to the practice, and a couple who are also registered patients at the practice. The medical students proved an invaluable resource and enabled us to strengthen our support to patients from vulnerable groups, including those shielding, and all patients over 80. The students phoned 1099 patients who were self-isolating or who had self-identified as vulnerable, and asked what help was needed. Two …

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