Relying on an army of retired nurses papering over jobs crisis

Unions’ warning comes as 17,000 people sign up for reservist scheme to cover NHS services

Unions’ warning comes as more than 17,000 people sign up for nurse reservist scheme that covers five areas to support hard-pressed NHS services

Unions warn that recruiting retired nurse reservists is paper over jobs crisis
Picture: iStock

Unions say plans to recruit thousands more retired nurses and others to help tackle huge NHS care backlogs is a sticking plaster solution that fails to address widespread staffing shortages.

Their warning follows the launch of a nationwide drive to recruit ‘an army of NHS reservists’ and create an additional bank of workers to support hard-pressed services.

More than 17,000 people have already signed up following a trial scheme in five areas. But NHS England said the plan was to recruit thousands more, including former staff who wanted to return, as well as those with no healthcare experience.

Short-term solution that fails to address long-standing staffing shortages, say unions

The roll-out of the reservist scheme across England is part of government plans to deal with a massive backlog in elective care, with some six million people currently waiting for hospital treatment.

However, unions say it is a short-term solution that fails to address long-standing staffing shortages.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: ‘The failure to invest in the nursing workforce has left a legacy of tens of thousands of nursing vacancies across health and care.

‘Setting up a reservist scheme of retired nurses will not cover for a crisis that was looming even before the pandemic hit.’

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said volunteers had a valuable role to play in the NHS, but the government must not assume those who came forward to support the vaccination programme would continue to support the NHS through the backlog of care.

Money better spent on above-inflation pay and nurse retention measures

‘Only a small proportion of the tens of thousands of returners and retirees who came forward at the start of the pandemic were even mobilised,’ she said.

‘Money would be better ​spent on an above-inflation pay rise and other retention measures to stop experienced staff leaving to take their chances elsewhere in the labour market.’

The government has come under fire from unions, MPs and healthcare experts for a lack of long-term workforce planning.

In launching the recruitment drive, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said a workforce strategy was needed to ensure a ‘really resilient workforce’ in the long term alongside ‘something that speaks to the more immediate challenges’.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said recruiting NHS reservists would help support the government’s commitment to deliver 50,000 more nurses.

What is an NHS healthcare reservist?

  • Reservists are paid volunteers who help the NHS during peak times and emergencies
  • Roles include helping with COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, helping run hospital wards, providing basic patient care and admin roles. Training is provided
  • Reservists must commit to doing a set number of days per year – usually about 30, but this will vary from trust to trust

Source: NHS Reserve Team

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