An army of black cab drivers has been enlisted to transport coronavirus patients to two new specialist COVID-19 clinics in Southwark.
With the London Ambulance Service at full capacity, Hackney carriage drivers have been chosen to fill the gap because of their in-depth knowledge of London's roads.
The traditional black cabs also benefit from having spacious passenger areas, and folding seats that are useful for moving patients.
And the glass barriers and "money holes" typically found inside black cabs will be sealed with adhesive to ensure drivers' safety.
The new initiative will also be run with ride-hailing app GETT. The company will communicate with the NHS and drivers and direct them to patients' homes.
It is understood that this idea could be rolled-out to other areas – including neighbouring Lambeth – if it proves successful in the borough of Southwark.
Meanwhile, the two new Southwark GP facilities will be located in the north and south of the borough.
SE1 residents will be served by a clinic in Walworth.
An NHS spokesperson would not confirm the precise locations of the clinics, because they don't want patients arriving without a referral.
Patients who are displaying symptoms will have to be referred to the facility by their own GP or from a 111 phone call.
Dr Gavin McColl – who devised the scheme – said: "London's black cab drivers are keen to do all they can to help in this crisis and we are very pleased to be working with GETT and the London Taxi Drivers' Association to put this in place.
"Not all patients will be able to safely transport themselves to the COVID-19 community treatment centres and we need to ensure that we reduce the spread of the disease."
Once the taxis have visited the clinic and dropped off their patient, the cars will be cleaned to NHS standards.
Angela Clarkson, director of the United Trade Action Group, said: "Our army of Covid cabbies is delighted that they are going to be able to use their professionalism and uniquely designed vehicles to make such a positive contribution to the NHS's fight against the virus.
"Cabbies across London were already helping out in a number of ways by delivering food and essential supplies to NHS workers and giving them below cost rides to work, but have been so keen to do more since this crisis began."
Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, said: "The black cab trade is proud to be part of this initiative to support Londoners and the NHS by getting people who need to see their GPs to their appointments quickly and safely."
The other GP practices in the borough will continue to work together to see patients remotely by video or telephone conference and where necessary, ensure that patients who need to physically see a GP or nurse can do so at other GP sites. Essential home visits, for example for patients receiving palliative care, will be carried out by GPs and the GP out of hours service SELDOC working together.
Dr Rob Davidson, a Southwark GP and clinical lead for South East London CCG said: "By working together, we can make the best use of our staff, resources and buildings to ensure that we can provide care for patients with Coronavirus as well as for patients who have illnesses unrelated to Covid-19."
"We have rapidly developed our ability to assess and manage patients remotely which means patients who do need GP or nurse advice can still access this without putting themselves or others at risk of spreading the virus."
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