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MP proposes permanent volunteer system to support pharmacies and NHS

Mak: Information about the volunteers could be made available through the NHS App. Pic credit: UK Parliament

A new framework modelled on the armed forces reserves system should be introduced to formally organise NHS volunteers, a Conservative MP has suggested.

In a social media post published ahead of the introduction of the NHS Reserves Bill in parliament earlier this week (November 24), Alan Mak said the new reservist system will “support our NHS hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacies and other healthcare providers”.

A “permanent” NHS Reserves system would enable both clinicians and non-clinicians “from all walks of life” to volunteer in the NHS, Mr Mak said in a video message published on Tuesday (November 26).

The backbench bill is supported by health secretary Matt Hancock, who said in the same video that “hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered for the NHS since the pandemic began and we want to harness the skills of those who want to keep helping by launching the NHS Reserves”.

Former health secretary and Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt tweeted on Tuesday that he is “delighted to co-sponsor and support this bill”.

“Help at times of emergencies”  

“The NHS Reserves will be a new, uniform standing reserve of clinical and non-clinical volunteers who could be called up to support our hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacies and other healthcare providers whenever more help is needed,” Mr Mak said presenting the motion in parliament as 10-minute rule bill on Tuesday.

Under the NHS Reserves framework, volunteers “would wear the same uniform and have the same equal status as their regular health service counterparts”, Mr Mak added.

Retired NHS staff but also non-clinical professionals such as “vehicle drivers, electricians, logistics specialists, IT experts, and communication professionals” would be added to a national reservist register detailing their competences.

The NHS Reserves could also “offer a route” for the “around 70,000” experienced clinical staff who leave the health service every year to “help at times of national or local emergencies”, Mr Mak said.

Anyone on the NHS Reserves register would receive training, while those in clinical roles would be required to “maintain the same update qualifications as their colleagues”.

Mr Mak envisages that information about the volunteers could also be made accessible through the NHS App, creating a “central source of information” that local providers can access to determine “who can be called up”.

Pilots to test how the NHS Reserves works in practice will be launched by Mr Hancock in all seven NHS regions across England, Mr Mak added.

A second reading on the bill is expected to take place next year on March 12.

English pharmacists are currently contractually required to ensure patients who are shielding receive their medicines during the pandemic, as part of the pandemic delivery service – which was recommissioned at the beginning of November until December 3.

NHS volunteer responders can collect medicines for pharmacies on behalf of housebound patients but if no volunteer is available, the pharmacy can deliver the medicines and claim £5,  plus an allowance for VAT. 

What do you make of this bill?

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

So sit in the NHS reserves and receive training.  Those in clinical roles would have to "maintain the same update qualifications"!  I have spent 40 years doing training in my own time and they would like you to sit in the reserves and still do unpaid training.  They have to be having a laugh!

Dave Downham, Manager

If you replace "volunteer" with "on the cheap", it makes perfect sense.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Soon you'll have serious suggestions for volunters to dispense and counsel patients. Pharmacists will be able to step in if any funding Is made available. It's a slippery slope folks but it's already started...

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I prefer the tried and tested method of paying a fair amount for a quality service.

sunil maini, Community pharmacist

Why not restaurants too?After all,they seem to be a bigger priority to HMG than pharmacy!!

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

So instead of funding pharmacy adequately so that we can provide the necessary services, the great new idea is to use unpaid volunteers instead. Absolute bollocks. This is ridiculous.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

So, now pharmacy has finally caught on not to provide services for free, some bright spark suggests that the Great British Public should do it for free. Responsibility? Liability? Now, where is my barge pole with the new extra long extension? 

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