While it is obvious that the NHS needs significantly more staff, and indeed the government have pledged to train these, it is just as obvious that it is not practical to fund on a continuous basis all the additional staff that might be required during health emergencies such as we are currently experiencing.
The staffing requirement during the summer months, is under normal circumstances, lower than during the winter, particularly during a heavy flu season. During a localised incident it would be higher again, and during a pandemic obviously sky high. While it may be possible to have a small amount of movement between local hospitals, much more than that is not practical and during a pandemic as all hospitals require extra staff that just aren’t available.
The inability of the Nightingale hospitals to be fully staffed highlighted the lack of additional capacity and just why this issue needs to be tackled to avoid similar issues occurring during future emergencies or pandemics.
The NHS Reserve – A Force For Good
To overcome the transient nature of the NHS staffing requirement, as outlined above requires an out of the box solution and I believe that forming an NHS Reserve is just such an idea.
Establishing an NHS Reserve similar to the reserve forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force, would allow the NHS to affectively increase its staffing to meet any demands placed upon it and in a cost effective manner. Whether these are large scale, national and long in duration, such as future pandemics, or short term and localised, such as large industrial incidents or terrorist attacks, an NHS Reserve could be mobilised at short notice to assist in whatever capacity was required.
Having a supply of highly trained and motivated staff ready for service at short notice everywhere across the country would be of massive national benefit. Many care staff, nurses, hospital doctors and GPs have left the NHS in the last few years due to the excessive strain they found themselves under, however many of these might be willing to support the NHS again in an alternate role.
We know that once the pandemic is over the waiting lists for patients requiring treatment will be longer than ever and that the staff who will be trying to bring these lists down will already be exhausted. If such a reserve was already in place image how much easier it would be to simply call on the extra staffing to assist with the extra burden. The Reserve could not only be called upon to fill vacancies during difficult times, it could also relieve permanent staff having to work excessive hours due to exceptional circumstances.
The Reserve volunteers could regularly work within hospitals so remaining up-to-date with current practices by filling temporary vacant posts while full time staff undertook additional training, had sabbaticals or were away for any other reason, and all this could happen without leaving any Hospital short staffed. This would be a far less expensive option than the massive drain on the NHS that continuously hiring agency staff is.
This reserve could also place the UK in a unique position to assist poorer countries in times of need, and the knowledge that staff gained whilst undertaking this work might prove useful back to the UK.
Some members of this Reserve could also receive highly specialised training such as dealing with the effects of chemical weapons, gun shot wounds and many other non standard situations which would allow them to be deployed and therefore this expertise to be available within any hospital in the area or indeed the country, as and when needed. This Reserve could be used to staff the Nightingale Hospitals, and to free up regularly staff to continue with non COVID related health treatments.
Three quarters of a million people volunteered to assist the NHS yet only a small percentage were actually utilised. With the introduction of an ongoing training programme, a little imagination and some will power ‘The NHS Reserve’ could become a future force to be reckoned with.