Dozens of former NHS nurses in Australia are hoping to return to the UK to assist in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Laura Mclaughlin – who has lived in Sydney for three years – has organised a group of over 50 NHS staff who want to return to Britain and take part in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The 27-year-old, who previously worked as an accident and emergency nurse in Southport, Merseyside, said she had been in touch with former colleagues in the UK, who said they were “so short-staffed”.
She said she was able to secure a seat on a flight from Darwin to Heathrow, but many others – including doctors and physiotherapists – were still searching for a route back to the UK.
“We’ve been to the embassy, trying to get hold of people to help us, but we’re just getting no answers,” said Ms Mclaughlin.
“I don’t think it’s good enough. We need to be prioritising flights for the NHS key workers to be getting home to be helping the pandemic.
“I have hopefully got this flight confirmed for tomorrow, but it’s still helping all the other people along the way trying to get home.”
She said flights were costing upwards of $13,000 (£6,600), adding that most did not “have that sort of money”.
“We’re really keen to come and help but we’re all feeling a little bit like everyone has turned their back on us at the moment,” said Ms Mclaughlin.
“It’s such a long way to be stuck with no flights with no help from the embassy or the government.”
She said bringing back nurses from retirement was a good idea but said there were young nurses around the world eager to return home to help.
Ned Starling, a paramedic who has worked for London Ambulance Service for five years, said he spent all of Tuesday looking for flights from Sydney.
The 28-year-old had been travelling around Australia with his girlfriend, who is also a nurse. He said he was in a Facebook group with another 500 NHS workers trying to get back to the UK from Australia.
He said: “If there’s any way of just promoting this idea that if there is repatriation, there’s a whole bunch of useful people that are willing to come back now, as soon as possible, to work.
“I personally feel that these are people that need to be back in the country.
“My reason for wanting to come back is really because I want to provide some help at home.”
Ms Mclaughlin is one of a few who have been able to secure a seat on the first non-stop Qantas flight from Darwin to Heathrow, with its flagship Sydney to London service – which stops in Singapore – brought to a halt.
The temporary route is expected to take 16 hours and 45 minutes and will run this week, before the airline suspends all international flights until 31 May.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman said: “We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice.
“The FCO is working around the clock to support British travellers in this situation to allow them to come back to the UK.”
Earlier, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, announced special flights were being set up to bring home Britons stranded because of the coronavirus lockdown.
He said Singapore had agreed to be the transit hub where people stuck in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Peru could fly through on their way back to the UK.
He also assured travellers unable to afford the cost of a plane ticket back they could get an emergency loan to cover the cost.