A non-profit group is signing up qualified health professionals – retired, out of the workforce or part-time –  to join a kind-of Home Guard to fill areas of need in the health system during the pandemic.

As we enter week two of the Level 4 Covid-19 alert, we need to preserve our frontline medical staff while also continuing to look after the sick and vulnerable. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Home Guard is one such extraordinary response.

Home Guard is a new non-profit group that seeks to collect, assist and match health care staff to areas of need as they evolve. The goal is to collect and build capacity in healthcare before it arises, and then respond quickly as needed. Anyone trained in healthcare can join. Those currently out of the workforce for reasons such as looking after family, recent retirees, doctors trained overseas awaiting registration, those currently based overseas and part timers, are all invited to join the movement, right now.

I have helped develop Home Guard. I am a doctor, but work currently as a full-time mum of four. Watching the rapidly evolving threat of Covid-19 from home, I realised I could use my skills to help. My small idea grew and grew and a few days after sharing my idea with other practitioners, we had hundreds of people wanting to join.

Since the launch on March 11, a groundswell of qualified doctors have come forward to enlist. They come from all over New Zealand, Australia and around the world. The pool of skill and experience is immense. There are specialists in Public Health, Occupational Health, Emergency Medicine, Anesthetics, Health Informatics, and General Practice. They speak multiple languages and are from many different communities, including rural areas. Medical students were so keen to sign up that a special division was formed.

Now the invitation has been thrown open to nurses, radiographers, medical receptionists, allied health, social workers, pharmacists, midwives, and medical laboratory scientists, dentists & dental nurses. Further call outs may follow.

Home Guard is in open conversation with the Ministry of Health, the Medical Council, public health, Primary Healthcare Organisations, DHBs and the aged care sector to understand their needs. Home Guard will work with these organisations to support all those enlisting. Workers are to be employed and paid as usual, and assistance given where possible to streamline paperwork. Upon registering, a careful process of checking and matching follows, and supports will be put in place for students and those re-entering practice. Care will be taken so that those at risk, such as those over 60 and those with chronic diseases, will not be exposed but can still contribute to care using technology.

We need people to look after all aspects of health. Currently there is a need for people to work in telehealth and contact tracing, but the need will expand to all areas of health – for example, children with chronic conditions needing regular follow up, or older people needing someone to check on them. We do not want to replace the frontline workers – we want to support them wherever is necessary.

Sam Johnson, founder of the Student Volunteer Army, has come on board as an advisor, utilising his vast experience with community mobilisation and disaster response. Companies are donating time and expertise. The core team supporting me is Dr Nicola Rowe, an Australian-registered doctor and former Boston Consulting Group management consultant, and Dr Renee Liang  a consultant pediatrician, science communicator and writer. Russell McVeagh is providing pro bono advice to Home Guard. Other experts in public health, community engagement and with connections to vulnerable populations such as Māori, Asian and Pasifika are advising.

This is a community movement. It’s about everyone working together, supporting each other and making sure we are using everything and everyone we’ve got to get through this. It’s also about growing something and developing new ways of working that can be used in the future.

Everyone involved so far is donating their time.This has grown very fast, and in order to do our work properly we need professional help. In this environment, where people are losing their livelihoods, we need to pay them. Anyone wanting to help out can donate by contacting Home Guard at https://www.homeguardnz.org

Dr. Andrea Penman is a University of Auckland trained Doctor. Currently a full-time mother to four young children, she has maintained an active interest in clinical medicine, the healthcare system, and...

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