Perm secs told to produce 'concrete plan' to free up civil servants to volunteer for booster rollout

Registered healthcare professionals across the civil service to get "unlimited" volunteering leave until the end of January
The Elland Road vaccination centre in Leeds. Photo: CSW

Permanent secretaries have been told to give medical professionals working in their departments unlimited paid leave to help with the Covid vaccine drive over the coming weeks as part of a civil service-wide push to deliver on the PM's booster target, CSW has learned.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case and Department of Health and Social Care permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald wrote to perm secs on Monday telling them to “mobilise volunteers from across the civil service” to support the vaccine rollout.

The memo gave departments a day's notice to come up with their “best estimate” of how many clinical and non-clinical volunteers they could spare and submit a “concrete plan” to release staff from their day jobs.

They said NHS bosses had estimated 124,000 extra people would be needed to deliver on the prime minister’s pledge to offer all adults a booster jab by the end of the month.

The memo was sent a day before civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm wrote to civil servants urging them to “put themselves forward to help out at their local community vaccine centres”.

Civil servants can take five days of paid leave a year to engage in volunteering activities. Chisholm told officials that while “giving up five days may be a challenge… if people could even do one day, every little helps”.

CSW has now learned that this offer has been extended for registered healthcare professionals working across the civil service over the next seven weeks to aid the effort.

“In light of the critical nature of the vaccine programme to the nation’s health, we have also agreed an exemption by which civil servants who are registered healthcare professionals are able to be paid for an unlimited number of volunteer days up to the end of January 2022,” the top brass wrote.

They said departments should contact any officials known to be registered healthcare professionals directly and encourage them to step up.

Departments have been asked to be flexible about allowing additional release time where they can in order to enable colleagues to volunteer.

Departments were also told to submit their plan – including estimates of how many clinical and non-clinical prospective volunteers they have and their locations by local authority – by the end of yesterday.

The instruction comes as public services scramble to deliver on the deadline promised by Boris Johnson in his televised speech on Sunday. The PM said all over-18s in England would have “the chance to get their booster before the new year”.

DHSC officials later clarified that the target was for appointments to have been issued before 31 December – meaning many of the vaccines would be administered in January and February.

The NHS has estimated 40,000 clinical and 84,000 non-clinical volunteers will be needed to deliver Johnson’s target.

“He has asked all cabinet ministers to ensure that the full resources of the state are directed at supporting the NHS in delivering this mission,” Case and Wormald said.

“To support this effort, we are seeking to mobilise volunteers from across the civil service – including both volunteers who are registered health professionals and volunteers who are not.

“Every department should now develop a concrete plan for the mobilisation of volunteers and release of staff from their department and their arm’s-length bodies over the coming days.”

'Bespoke' approach for larger departments 'to avoid overwhelming systems'

“For larger departments, to avoid overwhelming systems and to ensure the fastest and most efficient deployment of individuals, we may need a bespoke approach to signing up and utilising non-healthcare professional volunteers,” the memo said. Civil service HR chief Rupert McNeill and DHSC second perm sec Shona Dunn have contacted those departments separately to make arrangements.

Smaller departments with a “relatively limited” number of prospective volunteers were told to ask officials to apply directly to one of three schemes “immediately”.

Those who are registered with a clinical body such as the General Medical Council or the Nursing and Midwifery Council will be directed to a scheme being operated by NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Non-medically-qualified staffers will be encouraged to volunteer with St John Ambulance, which is training people to act as patient advocates, post-vaccination observers and volunteer vaccinators.

“Individuals recruited to these voluntary positions will receive full training and competency sign off to ensure they can fulfil the duties,” Case and Wormald said. 

Non-healthcare professionals can also put themselves forward to be site stewards through the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme, which is being run by the Royal Voluntary Service.

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