The General Medical Council is widening the net to grant temporary registrations to thousands more doctors.
Around 15,000 who left in the past 3 years were already invited. Now the criteria are being widened to another 12,000 doctors with a UK address who are GMC registered, but who do not currently hold a licence to practise, plus nearly 6800 doctors with a UK address who gave up their registration between 3 and 6 years ago (2014–17).
In a statement, Una Lane, GMC director of registration and revalidation, said: "We know from the response to the first group temporarily registered last week that many will be keen to help, but we also understand that many will have questions and concerns.
"Temporary registration allows doctors to work in the NHS, but it would be up to each individual whether or not they would wish to do so and in what capacity."
Thousands of former doctors have already responded to the call to return to the NHS and join the fight against "the greatest global health threat in history".
However, there are concerns as to whether these healthcare workers, who are potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19 than other staff members, will receive adequate protection and that their contractual status will be resolved.
The original call was made on 19th March by NHS England to 65,000 former healthcare professionals, including retirees, who had left in the last 3 years, with the opportunity to opt-in for a range of clinical and non-clinical roles.
On 21st March, Health Secretary for England Matt Hancock announced that 4000 nurses and 500 doctors had signed up to return within the first 48 hours.
By 24th March, those figures had risen to 6147 nurses, 2660 doctors and more than 2500 other healthcare professionals and pharmacists.
"I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need," Mr Hancock said in a televised statement.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 29th March that the number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals coming back to the NHS had reached 20,000.
There was warm support for the returning clinic staff, with Sadiq Kahn, Mayor of London, taking to Twitter to describe them as "heroes" and to thank them "from the bottom of my heart".
Another Twitter user, Rebecca Dodsworth, joined in the praise, saying: "This action by retired staff is just amazing - we owe them and their colleagues so much."
Angela Williams also said on Twitter it "makes me cry with pride".
A National Emergency
This week, 63-year-old retired GP Dr Henk Stiggelbout, told Medscape UK of the "quite frustrating" process of getting back to work. But was he afraid of the risks? "I'm not afraid of going back to work, I'm not afraid of putting myself at risk, I'm afraid of not being as useful as people think."
Mr Richard Kerr, 64, a retired consultant neurosurgeon and council member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, heeded the call to return to the NHS.
"When I began to understand the extent of the crisis, I felt I couldn’t stay away while my colleagues in the NHS are engaged in this tremendous battle," he said. "I felt a moral duty to volunteer to return.”
He expects that he will initially support younger colleagues with clinical decision making, "not least about admissions and discharges", adding: "Though I am a neurosurgeon, part of our training is about leading teams and that’s going to be absolutely crucial in the coming weeks."
However, "if colleagues fall ill, I expect that I may be back in patient-facing roles".
Mr Kerr said that, due to his age, "of course I’m nervous about being in a relatively at-risk group myself”.
"I will be looking for that personal protective equipment we’re hearing so much about, and it’s crucial we get that.”
He will also have to isolate from his wife, who has a chronic cough. "It is going to be a difficult period but we’re agreed this is something I’ve got to do.”
Christie Watson is a successful author who, alongside Lewes MP Maria Caulfield and former MP Sarah Wollaston, is returning to frontline nursing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But it’s more than that," Christie Watson, who has experience in paediatric critical care and the use of ventilators, told the Royal College of Nursing website.
"I feel frightened, but as I watch the bravery of those nurses and student nurses quietly getting on with things, as they always have done, these incredible women and men give me courage."
She said: "Like everybody, I have family to consider and I had to think very carefully about joining the emergency COVID-19 register. After discussing it with family, and previous colleagues and employers, I feel it is the right decision for me."
However, concerns have been expressed that potential vulnerable clinical staff returning to the front line are adequately protected against the risk of infection.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair, said in a statement: "We need to have as many NHS staff as we possibly can because of the crisis we are in.
"Given the wealth of knowledge and experience of recently retired doctors and nurses, they are going to be invaluable in the coming weeks and months.
"However, like all frontline staff, recently retired workers need confidence that they will be properly protected with safe and adequate Personal Protection Equipment. This remains the number one concern for the majority of staff and it needs to be put in place without any further delay."
Dr Nagpaul also called for reassurances that returning staff will receive the necessary training, and that "all regulatory and contractual arrangements will be correctly applied".
This uncertainty has opened the door to unscrupulous promoters of tax avoidance schemes to target workers returning to the NHS.
They encourage individuals to declare their first wage payments as earnings through an umbrella company, and then describe their second payment as a loan, annuity, shares, a capital advance or other non-taxable form.
As the government warned: "All of these schemes have one thing in common and that is to attempt to disguise the true level of your earnings."
"Our advice is to steer clear of these and report them," HM Revenue & Customs underlined.