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National Health Service Reserve Staff

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2020

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a system of reserve National Health Service staff; and for connected purposes.

The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest challenge that our health service has faced since its creation 70 years ago. Our inspirational doctors, nurses, paramedics, and clinicians of all disciplines have risen to that challenge, alongside our NHS leaders and non-clinical staff across the country. Those include Mark Cubbon and his team at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, and Dr Raj Laly, a GP from my constituency of Havant, who also both contributed to the research for this Bill.

Supplementing that immense effort is an army of volunteers, operating on a scale not seen in this country since perhaps the Women’s Land Army of the second world war. As the coronavirus outbreak grew, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care issued his clarion call for volunteers to help the NHS, and the public responded with great energy and in huge numbers. More than 750,000 people, from all walks of life, signed up to become NHS volunteer responders. As of today, they have collectively completed more than 1 million tasks, from shopping and collecting prescriptions, to driving people to hospital and telephone befriending them. I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking everybody who came forward to support their friends, colleagues, neighbours, family and communities since the outbreak began.

Those selfless people build on a strong tradition of volunteering that has existed in the health service for many decades. There are thought to be around 80,000 volunteers across all acute trusts in England, contributing more than 13 million hours of volunteering every year. The true figures are likely to be much higher. Those dedicated individuals carry out hundreds of roles, including volunteering on wards, providing administrative support, fundraising, organising patient participation groups, helping patients to find their way around hospitals, supporting relatives of the sick and picking up medicines from pharmacies.

One lesson we must learn from the coronavirus outbreak, and an opportunity we must seize, is ensuring that we retain the skills, experience and commitments of both our existing base of volunteers, and those people who have come forward since the pandemic began. To achieve those goals, we should create the NHS reserves—a new, but recognisable and trusted NHS brand that will fit effectively into the existing NHS family. The NHS reserves will be a new uniformed standing reserve of clinical and non-clinical volunteers, who can be called up to support our hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacies and other healthcare providers whenever more help is needed. That might be during public health emergencies, seasonal increases in demand, or critical incidents such as terrorist attacks or major accidents. The NHS reserves brand will also help to formalise and give greater status and recognition to the many existing health service volunteers, and provide a way to retain and use the skills of recently departed or retired staff.

The House will know that our country already has a proud history of exceptional reserve services. They are founded on dedicated and skilled people who, often at a moment’s notice, rush to the scene of an emergency, give up their spare time to serve their community, or bravely defend our country. Those reservists are the very best of us. For example, the armed forces reserves not only contributed large deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, but they provided around 15% of all the military personnel who made the London 2012 Olympics such a resounding success. The Police Special Constabulary is made up of more than 10,000 fully trained volunteers who work alongside full-time officers with the same uniform and equivalent powers. The Fire and Rescue Service has its well-known system of retained firefighters who respond to emergencies around the clock. In fact, the NHS is the only one of our major emergency services not to have a formal national reservist structure. The new NHS reserves that I propose would change that for the better, embodying many of the characteristics that have made our other reserve services so successful.

Every NHS reservist would wear the same uniform and have the same equal status as their regular health service counterparts. That will strengthen their role in hospitals and clinical settings, and give confidence to patients and staff. Rightly, when it comes to healthcare, patients will expect the very best treatments and the highest standards from our NHS. Therefore, every NHS reservist would receive appropriate training, and anyone working in a clinical discipline would be vetted and have to maintain the same up-to-date qualifications as their full-time colleagues. Professional bodies such as the General Medical Council, and charities such as St John Ambulance, would play a key role in that, given their expertise.

  In practical terms, reservists in clinical disciplines could support or perform a range of roles, such as vaccinators, therapists, triage nurses or telemedicine providers, or help with continuing healthcare. They could also provide general cover in non-specialist clinical roles if private sector staff supply agencies, locums or staff banks were not available to help at short notice. On the non-clinical side, reservist roles could include drivers, electricians, logistics specialists, IT experts and communications professionals, and could also include and formalise the many hundreds of other non-clinical tasks that hospital volunteers currently carry out daily across our country.

Every year, around 75,000 clinical staff leave the NHS. They are people with relevant skills who could help at times of national or local emergency. Therefore, the NHS reserves would also offer a route for experienced staff to continue helping the health service after stepping down from paid employment. That would build on the important and valuable work already done by the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council that has allowed around 25,000 doctors and nurses to temporarily rejoin their registers to help in the fight against coronavirus.

I anticipate that, just like our other successful reserve services, NHS reservists will supplement, not supplant, any roles currently undertaken by NHS employees, while offering many other benefits to the health service. To make the NHS reserve system function well, we will also need a new national reservists register, where the health service can capture details about volunteers and their skills, possibly using the NHS app as one channel. This central source of information will be accessible to NHS trusts, hospital chief executives and other healthcare bodies around the country, enabling the NHS to know who can be called up, including those with expertise who are not currently employed by the health service. This would be a useful resource in its own right, and it is not one that the health service currently has access to.

The pandemic has shown just how much people love our NHS and how ready they are to support the health service when times are tough. I am grateful that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is supporting my Bill and has agreed to launch a pilot in all seven NHS regions across England. I thank him, his advisers and his Department for their help over many months. Some Members have already signed up to become parliamentary champions for the NHS reservists, and I welcome others who would like to promote the NHS reserves in their constituencies.

I strongly believe that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harness the passion, skills and commitment of those who have already volunteered for the NHS and those who would like to do so in the future. By launching the NHS reserves, we will be creating a positive long-term legacy after coronavirus that will benefit our health service in every community for many years to come. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Alan Mak, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Graham Brady, Jeremy Hunt, Damian Green, Greg Clark, Joy Morrissey, James Cartlidge, Kevin Hollinrake, Tom Tugendhat, Danny Kruger and Andrew Griffith present the Bill.

Alan Mak accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 March 2021, and to be printed (Bill 217).

Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 2 September 2020 (Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords] (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Message

(1) Proceedings on the Lords Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

Subsequent stages

(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(David T. C. Davies.)

Question agreed to.