Case Study

Going for gold at Dorset ICB: how the ICB achieved a gold award in the Defence ERS

This case study explores how Dorset ICB achieved its gold award in the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme.

28 September 2023

The NHS Dorset Integrated Care Board (ICB) was created on 1 July 2022, in response to the Health and Care Act 2022. Its predecessor organisation, NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), had already achieved the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) silver award, which meant that the ICB was able to retain the status. However, leaders at the newly formed organisation aimed higher. With support of the executive group, the HR team at the ICB developed and adopted the required policies and in July 2023 the organisation was awarded the ERS gold accreditation, all within a year of the creation of the ICB.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Achieved Defence ERS gold award, demonstrating NHS Dorset’s advocacy in supporting the Armed Forces community. 
  • Creation of an Armed Forces community policy to recognise every cohort within the Armed Forces.
  • Reaffirmation of the organisation’s commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • An additional ten days paid leave for reservists to cover annual training.
  • Creation of an NHS Dorset Armed Forces community framework to incorporate the nine commitments of the NHS England Armed Forces Healthcare: a forward view. 
  • Executive sponsorship of the Armed Forces community framework implementation under the health inequalities agenda. 
  • Pledging to Step into Health, enhancing the ICBs reputation as an employer of choice for the Armed Forces community. 

What the organisation faced

Approximately 12 per cent of Dorset's population is part of the Armed Forces community, with 7.1 per cent identifying as having previously served in any UK Armed Forces according to the Office for National Statistics, 2023. There existed already a strong connection between the Armed Forces community and various provider organisations in Dorset, both official and unofficial. When integrated care systems were introduced, it was a chance to review how organisations worked together and to create a framework for the Armed Forces community that could address its needs locally. 

The ICB needed to review its existing policies due to changes in structure. This was an opportunity to make sure a policy for the Armed Forces community aligned with other documents, like those covering annual leave for Armed Forces reservists. The transition from a CCG to an ICB meant that leaders had to focus on setting up governance structures first. At the same time, the ICB was creating a local People Plan. It was crucial that the new Armed Forces community policy complimented this. The ICB believed it met the criteria for the ERS gold award, but it needed to create a supportive HR policy to ensure specific elements such as annual leave for reservists and Cadet Force adult volunteers met the minimum requirements. 

What the organisation did

To meet the eligibility criteria for the gold award, the ICB needed to confirm that it retained the silver award originally awarded to the CCG. The ICB executive team supported the production of an Armed Forces community framework, within which the Armed Forces community policy played a key part, particularly in delivering commitment three: helping the transition from the Armed Forces to civilian life.  

The production of the policy was driven by a principle that the ICB would see the Armed Forces community as a whole, so it would need to go beyond the minimum requirement of including reservists and Cadet Force adult volunteers.  

To support the creation of the policy, a range of engagement activities took place. This included sharing information across the internal staff bulletin, a survey to establish numbers of member of the Armed Forces community within the workforce and working with the policy production HR team. The agreed policy directly supported Dorset ICS's commitment to offering 10 days additional paid leave for reservists, five days additional paid leave for Cadet Force adult volunteers and a pledge to the Step into Health programme, supporting those looking to transition from a military career into the NHS. 

Results and benefits

  • NHS Dorset was awarded the MoD Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) gold award in 2023, demonstrating the organisation's support to defence and the Armed Forces Community.

  • Reservists working for NHS Dorset receive 10 days additional paid leave to meet annual training requirements, in recognition of the transferrable skills and benefits being brought back to the organisation and to ensure they feel valued and face no disadvantage in terms of available leave. 

  • Achieving ERS gold demonstrates the ICB’s commitment as an Armed Forces friendly employer, both towards its existing workforce and the wider Armed Forces Community. 

  • Cadet Force adult volunteers working for NHS Dorset are awarded five days additional paid leave to support their commitment to Cadet Force organisations. 

  • NHS Dorset is committed to Step into Health and encourages staff to identify as members of the Armed Forced community through the electronic staff record functionality, supporting line managers to understand the skills and experience members of the community bring to the role. 

Going forward

Having secured the ERS gold award, NHS Dorset is working to support ICS partners to begin or continue their own journeys along the ERS award scheme. Engagement across the Armed Forces community will continue as it seeks to retain its commitment as an Armed Forces friendly employer, working with local and national colleagues to share good practice.  

Takeaway tips

  • Engage with national colleagues within NHS Employers and Step into Health teams by joining networking events to learn what others are doing and share good practice, documents and templates.  

  • To secure buy-in from board members, take the time to evidence in person how retaining and recruiting from the Armed Forces community directly supports the aims and objectives of the NHS People Plan, Integrated Care Strategy, and the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.  

  • Build relationships with colleagues across the system – everyone has something to offer as they seek to support the Armed Forces community or deliver services collaboratively.  

Contact details

For more information about the work in this case study, contact Ash Boreham, Armed Forces community lead at NHS Dorset Integrated Care Board at