NHS nurses volunteering to help tackle ebola in West Africa will receive pay for up to two months while they are away, triple the usual period they would be eligible, due to the “exceptional” nature of the outbreak.
The arrangements, which government officials have confirmed to Nursing Times, have not been formally announced.
NHS workers deployed to previous international emergencies have been funded through a government package that would normally release them from their posts for two to three weeks.
But due to the scale of the current ebola outbreak – which has so far killed nearly 5,000 people out of nearly 9,000 cases – the government has agreed to provide funding to trusts that will ensure nurses and other healthcare workers can volunteer for up to eight weeks.
The funding, which is being provided by the Department for International Development, will be used to backfill the posts of staff who are deployed to the outbreak zone.
“NHS volunteers will provide a vital boost to efforts in Sierra Leone to treat those infected and prevent further spread of the disease.”
As part of this funding package, NHS volunteers will also receive pre-deployment training, relevant vaccinations, travel, accommodation, and insurance so that it is does not cost them financially join the effort in tackling the disease.
A DFID spokesman said: “The ebola outbreak poses an unprecedented threat to millions of people in West Africa. NHS volunteers will provide a vital boost to efforts in Sierra Leone to treat those infected and prevent further spread of the disease.
“UK medics have a long tradition of responding to emergencies overseas. The length of the deployment reflects the exceptional nature of the situation and the long-term assistance needed. It includes staff training and will also allow volunteers to work proper shift patterns.”
“I can’t think of any other response that has needed so many international nurses”
The spokesman was unable to confirm the exact budget for the funding package, but said it was part of the £125m committed by the department to tackle the virus.
Charities involved in the ebola response have described the funding commitment from the government as an “extraordinary” step to take.
Andrew Gleadle, director of programme performance and development at charity International Medical Corps, which is already providing care to ebola patients in West Africa, said the government was taking “extraordinary steps” due to the heightened need for nursing staff to tackle the outbreak.
“I’ve been doing this 25 years, and for every major disaster I can’t think of any other response that has needed so many international nurses,” he told Nursing Times.
Andrew Gleadle in Sierra Leone
Professor Anthony Redmond is chair of emergency medical charity UK-Med, which is co-ordinating volunteer NHS workers through its UK International Medical Register.
He also told Nursing Times the government’s expanded funding arrangement was due to the “extraordinary” nature of the outbreak, which required an “extraordinary” response.
“I am very impressed by the willingness of government departments to come together and help on this – it is an enormous effort,” he said.
He noted that in the past, UK-Med had run a register for trauma-based natural disasters, but this was the first time it had been officially extended to an emergency medical outbreak.
Professor Redmond confirmed that more than 250 NHS nurses had signed up so far out of a total 700 applicants, but warned many more would be required.
He said he did not have an official target for recruitment because, “given the nature of the emergency, we just need to keep recruiting because the scale of it continues to grow”.
UK-Med is currently working with charities including Save the Children, IMC and Goal for the deployment of nurses it has recruited.
Last month, chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies wrote to NHS employees encouraging them to volunteer to help.
The government is also due to open an ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone and a British ship carrying medical experts and military personnel left the UK for Sierra Leone on Friday. RFA Argus is expected to reach West Africa by the end of the month where it will provide support to aid workers.