Airline crew asked to join NHS Nightingale Hospitals initiative

Image: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images

Thousands of EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic employees have been asked to work at the temporary NHS Nightingale Hospital in east London and similar facilities planned for Birmingham and Manchester.

The airline cabin crew, who have been unable to work since aircraft were grounded because of the coronavirus crisis, are being invited to sign up for support roles, which will involve performing non-clinical tasks such as changing beds.

Many of the airline staff are first aid trained, have security clearance and hold other clinical qualifications. Those who sign up will work under the close supervision of NHS clinicians and will receive expert training when they work at the temporary facilities.

EasyJet, which has grounded its entire fleet, has written to all 9,000 of its UK staff, including 4,000 cabin crew who are trained in CPR.

Virgin Atlantic, which has cut four-fifths of its flights and asked staff to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave, will write to 4,000 employees today (30 March), prioritising those with the required skills. It said staff who volunteered would be paid via the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“We have all needed the NHS at some point in our lives and so we are so proud that our crew can now help to support the NHS at this crucial time,” said Tina Milton, director of cabin services at EasyJet.

“The NHS is at the forefront of dealing with this health emergency but the training and skills our cabin crew have, working closely with the medical professionals, could help make a real difference.”

Virgin Atlantic’s chief customer officer Corneel Koster said: “We are very proud of our highly skilled people at Virgin Atlantic and since the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced, we have been inundated with our employees looking to help other organisations at this time of crisis.

“The NHS approached us with this unique opportunity as they recognise the value and experience our medically trained cabin crew and trainers will bring to the incredible Nightingale Hospital initiative.

“In addition, our cargo business is very busy with extra flights, keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential medical supplies into the UK at this time.”

Staff who volunteer at the NHS Nightingale Hospitals will be offered free accommodation and some free meals, depending on the shifts they work.

St John Ambulance is also providing hundreds of additional staff to volunteer at the hospital at the London ExCeL centre.

The NHS is at the forefront of dealing with this health emergency but the training and skills our cabin crew have, working closely with the medical professionals, could help make a real difference,” – Tina Milton, EasyJet

Two more Nightingale Hospitals will be built at the Manchester Central conference centre and the Birmingham NEC. Others are expected to be opened elsewhere in the UK once the NHS secures suitable sites.

NHS England chief nursing officer Ruth May said: “The NHS is mobilising like never before, but the scale of this challenge has not been seen in peacetime so we need all the support we can get.

“Thousands of nurses, medics and other expert staff are returning to work alongside us, but we need everyone to do their bit – whether that is working in one of our current health or social care services, working in the Nightingale Hospital, volunteering to help the NHS or following government advice to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

So far, 750,000 people have signed up to join the NHS’s “volunteer army” and carry out roles including transporting discharged patients home from hospitals; delivering food and other supplies to those who are self-isolating; and transporting medication and equipment between NHS sites. Applications under the volunteer scheme have been paused while they are processed by the Royal Voluntary Service.

Doctors and nurses who recently left the profession are also being invited back to work within the NHS.

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