The NHS has revealed that they will be employing thousands of new NHS reservists to tackle the sizeable COVID backlogs currently impacting health services.
Announced by NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard, the new initiative is developed in response to the growing COVID backlogs caused as a result of the pandemic, recruiting thousands of NHS reservists to help alleviate the burden.
Pritchard is urging the public to enlist as an NHS reservist, with the role offering an array of opportunities, including helping people who are discharged from the hospital or as a member of the NHS COVID vaccination programme.
The extent of COVID backlogs
COVID backlogs have grown significantly throughout the pandemic, with a range of health services across the UK being impacted, leading to increased waiting lists, people not seeing a GP due to displaying COVID symptoms, and procedures and referrals delayed or cancelled due to a lack of capacity.
Statistics from the BMA show that prior to the pandemic, 4.43 million people were on a waiting list for care, which has now risen to over six million waiting for treatment. The total number of people waiting over 18 weeks for treatment is over two million, with over 310,000 people waiting over a year – 200 times more than pre-pandemic levels. Between April 2020 and December 2021, there were 4.29 million fewer elective procedures and 29.40 million fewer outpatient attendances.
For cancer patients, the target of 93% of individuals with suspected cancer to have an urgent GP referral within two weeks has not been achieved since May 2020. Furthermore, the number of patients receiving their first treatment within two months of attending a screening service is still below operational standard.
A&E waiting times have also increased, with the number of patients waiting over 12 hours for an admission reaching nearly 17,00 in January 2022 – a record high exceeding the 10,000 experienced in November 2021, more than seven times pre-pandemic levels.
Enhancing NHS reservists
The NHS has launched a new website where anyone can register their interest to become a reservist, such as people interested in a career in the NHS or former staff who would like to return. The reservists can then be called upon by local hospitals and NHS services depending on their staffing requirements and pressures in their area to reduce the COVID backlogs. The project ran a pilot launch at five sites last year, with over 17,000 people joining.
Individuals do not need any previous experience a full training is provided, with reservists paid in line with the role they are performing. Moreover, they will also be provided support by existing NHS workers before starting any role. Statistics show that over 1.3 million people are working for the NHS in England alone, nearly 50,000 more than last year, including over 21,000 professionally qualified clinical staff.
Amanda Pritchard said: “Along with the whole country, NHS staff have had a challenging few years – they have worked incredibly hard to care for over 600,000 people in hospital with COVID, kept routine services going for people who needed them and helped the entire country get back to normal with the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
“Their outstanding work has rightly inspired thousands of people who want to join us in delivering care for millions of people, which is why we are introducing this new drive for NHS reservists.
“Reservists will help us in our time of need but also help those who want a rewarding career in the health service – the roles are flexible and can fit around your lifestyle. The challenges for the NHS are far from over – and as we now pull out all the stops to recover services, we once again need the public’s support. So if you want to help your community by helping your local NHS – search NHS Reservists today – your NHS needs you.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Former healthcare workers coming out of retirement played a vital role in the national mission to roll out vaccines, as did the many selfless volunteers who came forward to support the NHS. We want to build on this invaluable resource as recover and reform, which is why we’re now recruiting an army of NHS reservists. If you want to help the NHS care for patients and tackle the COVID backlog, please sign up today.”
Frank Shannon, an RAF veteran and qualified nurse, was inspired by the effort of NHS staff and joined up to one of the pilot reserve programmes, completing two or three shifts per week at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
He said: “The support has been excellent and well organised, and we have been provided with all the training required through a combination of online modules and practical life support training in person. I was delighted to have the opportunity to support wherever I could. It has been very rewarding to be part of the team, and I hope to be so for some time yet. All health care personnel have an inner drive and motivation to help people. I just wanted to do my bit, help out in any way, not let my clinical skills go to waste, and be part of a team again.”
Emma Holmes, a retail worker of 25 years, became a reservist after being furloughed, helping with the NHS’ vaccination drive, commented: “I thought it was a really good opportunity to support with the COVID situation while gaining different skills, and hopefully helping me go through to a different route in my career.
“There were lots of opportunities to help in different roles, which meant I could try out different areas in the NHS to find out where my skills were most suited.”
Professor Em Wilkinson-Brice, Deputy Chief People Office for the NHS, said: “The whole country is massively indebted to the hard work of NHS staff over the last two years, and there is no better way to show your appreciation than stand side by side with health service colleagues as a reservist. By joining the reservists at this most vital of times, not only will you be stepping up to support your NHS, you will also be joining the most passionate and rewarding teams in the world.”