Mobilising NHS Reservists will be key to our vaccination ambitions
By enabling volunteers to become NHS Reservists, wearing the same uniform and having the same status as their full-time counterparts, patients can be reassured that Reservists have received proper training, writes Alan Mak MP. | PA Images
In a world where confidence in vaccinations has been eroded by the falsehoods spread by the anti-vaxxer movement, we need to ensure the public have full trust in our inoculation programme
Recent announcements that Coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna all deliver a strong immune response means the end of the pandemic may be in sight.
While our outstanding scientists, led by the team from Oxford University, have played their part producing more than 100 million doses of the vaccine, the mass nationwide inoculation programme is only just beginning.
With a bold ambition to vaccinate the entire population in 2021, the government will need to recruit thousands of volunteers to supplement the work of our NHS and Armed Forces.
St John Ambulance are at the forefront of this effort. While many people will have completed first aid courses run by this superb charity, they are now helping to train around 30,000 people to become volunteer vaccinators.
Its recruits come from all walks of life – including teachers, builders, lawyers and retirees – but they all share a common determination to defeat Coronavirus as soon as possible. One volunteer, Richard Harper, a former teaching assistant, said that while he had never previously administered an injection, he was determined to go through the training to do his bit to help.
While St John Ambulance’s work to train volunteers to become vaccinators can only be commended, it is vital that the skills of those who come forward are retained and fully utilised by the NHS as much as possible once the vaccination programme ends.
That’s why I introduced a House of Commons Bill to create the NHS Reserves, a new England-wide reservist system for our Health Service.
NHS Reservists can play a major role in the successful rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine and strengthen our Health Service in the long term
The NHS Reserve Staff Bill, which was backed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, would provide a more formal structure – and a uniform – for volunteer reservists to support our Health Service on an on-going basis. The NHS Reserves also provide a route for retired NHS staff and recent leavers to continue contributing. Department of Health & Social Care figures indicate 47,000 former healthcare professionals volunteered to help the NHS during the Coronavirus outbreak, with another 750,000 non-clinical volunteers signing up online, so there is strong interest.
Importantly, the NHS Reserves would bring vaccinator volunteers – and those with other skills – inside the NHS family so healthcare planners would have a more up-to-date picture about volunteer numbers and the types of expertise they bring.
In a world where confidence in vaccinations has been eroded by the falsehoods spread by the anti-vaxxer movement, we need to ensure the public have full trust in our inoculation programme.
And no brand in this country is as well liked or trusted as the NHS. For more than 70 years it has been at the heart of our country’s wellbeing.
By enabling volunteers to become NHS Reservists, wearing the same uniform and having the same status as their full-time counterparts, patients can be reassured that Reservists have received proper training and were maintaining the same up-to-date qualifications as our regular doctors, nurses and other NHS workers.
Once the vaccination programme ends, the NHS Reserves will also ensure that these volunteers’ skills are retained and the hours of training they received is not lost. NHS Reservists will be ready to respond to future healthcare emergencies, public events, seasonal rises in demand, and major incidents such as terrorist attacks. The Health Secretary is launching pilots in all seven NHS regions across England to explore how the NHS Reserves can work in practice.
As we begin to mobilise thousands of vaccine volunteers, NHS Reservists can play a major role in the successful rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine and strengthen our Health Service in the long term too.
Alan Mak is the Conservative MP for Havant.