Integration on the front line - NHS reservists working together

Gemma Wright NHS Employers

Gemma Wright is the lead for NHS Employers' supporting the Armed Forces programme and an honorary colonel of 306 hospital support regiment. Here she shares her experience of attending a military reservist training exercise.

In June of this year I was privileged to accompany members of my unit, 306 Hospital Support Regiment, to take part in a multi-national exercise in Germany. From dentists to GPs to emergency nurses, there were reservists from all over the country taking part.

This exercise was the third in a series of training opportunities available to our NHS reservists. The Army was looking to test its world-leading training simulations, improve partnerships with key allies and to field test a new tented hospital provision now equipped to deal with chemical, biological and radioactive threats.

The aim of the new hospital system is to give leading front-line care. Clinicians from the NHS worked alongside other healthcare professionals from the US Army. For this exercise our NHS reservists were integrated with them and under their command. Challenging times were ahead!

a team trating a patient outside

Three words that reflect into the current context of the NHS: ‘integrated’, ‘partnership’ and ‘system’ raised questions for me, how would this exercise test those concepts? Was there any learning to be taken from their approach? How did our NHS healthcare professionals adapt to this environment and way of working?

Walking into the tented hospital on day one, I was struck by the calm. People were just going about their roles, seamlessly sharing the space and finding things to share and learn with each other. I was struck by the slickness of it all. At this time, they were not providing care to ‘live’ patients so I stuck around to see what would happen.

Sure enough, the distant sounds of an ambulance could be heard and ears pricked up. In quick succession four British field ambulances arrived, loaded with patients. I should say that casualty actors were being used along with individuals from Amputees in Action but from my view point this was a very real situation, with very real looking injuries, smells, smoke and volume.

The teams had been together less than 72 hours, were from different countries, some working full-time in the NHS, some trained in healthcare by the US Army. If it weren’t for the subtle changes in uniform, you wouldn’t know. Many people have referred to our A&E trauma teams as Formula One pit crews and this definitely rang true. Each knew their role, where to stand, what questions to ask, what paperwork to fill out and what health and safety parameters they needed to work within. Impressive stuff.

two reservists wheeling a casualty ona stretcher

After witnessing this pit crew in action, I dug a little deeper. I spoke to the commanding officers of the hospital, asked about how long people had trained together for, how long they had rehearsed this scenario for and where was the script that everyone was working to? The answers; some had only met in the last 30 minutes, some over a few days, all were relatively new relationships and there was no script.

Sure, there have been challenges; getting used to each other’s equipment, medication/blood provision rules and some procedural nuances but the NHS reservists I spoke to were nonchalant about them, reflecting this happens naturally in the NHS anyway such as when moving to another hospital or working on a new ward or department. So, I asked what is making this work?

The overwhelming consistent theme was patients. Keep the patient at the front of your mind and integration, partnership and system working will all have a strong foundation to build on, plus a common cause.

two men wheeling a strecher with a patient

Throughout the exercise I had witnessed tremendous teamwork, positivity and confidence in each other’s ability to deliver top quality patient care. Leadership at all levels and empowerment to challenge ways of working, thinking differently and evaluating every situation were also evident and are often reflected by employers as behaviours reservists bring to their teams in the NHS.

I left the exercise overwhelmingly proud of our reservists and how they had represented the principles and values all individuals working in our national health service hold dear to them.
Read more about supporting reservists in your organisation and the benefits members of the Armed Forces can bring to the NHS in our supporting the Armed Forces web section.

The NHS Employers Armed Forces team is hosting its inaugural conference to explore the long-term partnership between the NHS and the Armed Forces in November. Find out more on the conference event page.

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