Gemma Wright: Supporting military reserves in the NHS

Gemma_WrightAs we approach Armed Forces Day tomorrow, this is the time to consider the 4000 healthcare staff who, as reservists, give up their spare time to train and serve in either the Royal Navy, Army, or Royal Air Force. Most of them work in the NHS and combine their military commitments with a civilian life and career. More than a million people work in the NHS so NHS Employers want to raise awareness and help bust myths about what it means to be a reservist.

We are often asked what happens when a reservist is asked to take part in military or civil relief operations and complete their mandatory training as part of their reservist role. The forward planning arrangements are well thought through and communicated to the individual and their named manager so everyone has plenty of notice. Training predominantly takes place at evening and weekends with the training calendar released to employers a year in advance, enabling organisations to alter rotas accordingly.

We work very closely with the Ministry of Defence to help share good practice around supporting reserves in employment—showcasing the benefits for the employer and the individual—but really trying to clarify what the long term benefits are. There are many myths about being a reservist, mainly around pay and who is responsible for what when a reservist is mobilised. The MoD offer a financial package covering additional salary costs, including pension contributions and any other one-off costs that have been incurred to advertise, recruit, and re-train.

Training for reservists is paid for by the MoD and has been independently valued at £8000 per reservist and up to £17 000 for officers in the first year alone, so that is over £35 million for expert training for the NHS each year. The courses include subjects such as conflict resolution or clinical skills, with teamwork and leadership being at the core of all activities. Some individuals have told us that the leadership development support they receive has been instrumental in them moving faster into clinical leadership roles. Others have said that the new skills and confidence they have gained has reinvigorated their careers, helping them progress within the NHS.

Our experience tells us that central to the success of supporting reservists is managers who have an awareness of what being a reservist means and what policies are in place to help facilitate training commitments. We have a series of scenario based guides for managers that follow reservists through each stage of their service, from joining to returning from a deployment.

Recently an employer gave us some feedback about their experience of having members of their workforce acting as reservists. They said don’t look at what you are giving, focus on what you will get back, because by giving that extra two weeks’ leave they have reaped the benefits both in teams and as an organisation.

To close this blog I want to include a description, in their own words, of exactly what reservists themselves think they’ve gained from joining. Here is an account from a consultant surgeon in trauma and orthopaedics who is also a reservist in the Royal Navy:

“I am a consultant surgeon specialising in trauma and orthopaedics, but am also in the Royal Navy Reserve where I am surgeon commander and act as a consultant surgeon.

Being a reservist has definitely benefitted my trust as it has given me a very specialist knowledge of trauma and resuscitation, which helped to develop a major trauma centre. Driven by my experiences of being deployed in Afghanistan, I brought a blood fridge into A&E, which took the transfusion time in our A&E down from 30 minutes to seconds because it’s all on tap now.

To be a consultant you need to write papers or have additional degrees, so being a reservist is like having an additional degree, especially when you deploy. I would say that becoming a consultant wasn’t as difficult for me as it was for my colleagues because the trust saw a very clear advantage to me being a reserve.

And, after two management courses and more experience of managing others, my confidence has increased and I feel more rounded as a person. The British Orthopaedic Association were so impressed by the training in Afghanistan they asked if civilian trainees could be sent there to gain some experience.

Working in the Royal Navy Reserves presents many challenges to me and adds value to my trust.”

Gemma Wright, programme lead, NHS Employers.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: None.