Case Study

Achieving Defence gold standard across newly merged trust

Learn how a trust merger initiated a gold-standard approach to supporting the Armed Forces across the entire workforce.

30 September 2022

When two Sussex-based trusts merged in 2021, the opportunity to develop a forces-friendly approach to workforce policy across the whole organisation was grasped. This case study outlines how the dedicated work of the trust's Armed Forces network, led by Lt Col Ben Caesar, pictured above, achieved top-level gold accreditation in the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme within seven months of being established. 


University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UHSussex) was created in April 2021 through the merger of Western Sussex Hospitals (WSHT) and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH). Prior to the merger, BSUH held the top-level Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) gold award for its commitment to supporting the Armed Forces in the workplace. The existing Armed Forces network, with support from the new board executives, worked hard to bring the policies and procedures supporting the Armed Forces community into the merged organisation and ultimately achieve ERS gold for UHSussex.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Creation of a single Armed Forces network and Armed Forces policy across the newly merged organisation.
  • Recognition that the whole trust actively supports the Armed Forces community in the workplace.
  • Improved status for the trust as an attractive employer for Armed Forces reservists - allowing time off and support for training and deployment.
  • UHSussex achieved both ERS gold accreditation and Veteran Aware status within seven months of its creation in April 2021.

What the organisation faced

Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) awards are presented to employer organisations that pledge, demonstrate or advocate support to Defence and the Armed Forces community and align their values with the Armed Forces Covenant.

The scheme encompasses bronze, silver and gold awards and organisations must demonstrate several requirements for each level before moving onto the next. Awards are revalidated regularly; organisations must demonstrate they continue to meet the level awarded - or have worked to achieve the next level up.

The former BSUH had a successful Armed Forces network and policy, established service Champions throughout the trust and had achieved Veteran Aware status. All of which resulted in the former trust achieving the ERS gold award.

The challenge was to use the excellent work of the existing Armed Forces network and its activities at a whole trust level, establishing the procedures and policies developed to support the Armed Forces community across all hospitals in the new organisation.

What the organisation did

Members of the executive team sponsored dedicated work from the Armed Forces network to launch the new trust-wide approach. A range of engagement activities including whole-trust communications, staff drop-in sessions and surveys, collaboration with HR, and media publicity took place to raise awareness of the Armed Forces policy and network.

It was critical to gain support from senior directors who could champion the project at board level. Communications support was key to ensuring the network had a strong voice within the trust, as well as more widely with local NHS partners and Armed Forces organisations which collaborated in the work.

Core to the trust’s Armed Forces policy is support for new employees who are members of the military community, during recruitment, induction stage and throughout their ongoing career.

UHSussex also actively supports Armed Forces reservists in the workplace, offering 10 days additional paid leave for annual training and championing the range of skills gained through military experience. The trust recognises military skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication not only develop the individual but also benefit the organisation, with reservists bringing these disciplines into their NHS role.

The result of the work and effort of the Armed Forces network and partners across the trust meant UHSussex achieved both ERS gold accreditation and Veteran Aware Status within seven months of being established. A hugely impressive achievement for the network and all those involved.

Results and benefits  

  • UHSussex was successfully awarded ERS gold accreditation and Veteran Aware status within seven months of its merger in April 2021.
  • The trust can demonstrate its commitment as a forces-friendly employer – both internally and to the wider NHS and Armed Forces community.
  • UHSussex supports reservist colleagues with 10 days additional paid leave to carry out annual training and championing the excellent military skills gained by reservists.
  • UHSussex promotes recruitment of staff from across the Armed Forces community, with a dedicated support package from application stage and throughout their NHS career.

Going forwards

The trust acknowledges that achieving gold ERS accreditation is just the start of its journey as an Armed Forces friendly employer. It recognises the need to continue demonstrating advocacy with a key focus on building the support available from the Armed Forces network.   

UHSussex plans to introduce a set of standard operating procedures focusing on brief, easy-to-understand documents which show action points and defined tasks to support both military and wider NHS colleagues. 

Takeaway tips

  • Collaborate with others throughout. Develop relationships with internal colleagues across departments and externally with other trusts and organisations who can offer support.
  • Gain support from senior board members and key stakeholders in your organisation, including chief people officers, communications and human resources colleagues, to ensure shared learning and development across the trust.

Contact details

For more information about the work in this case study, contact Ben Caesar, Armed Forces lead at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, at