Letter: Cures for the NHS

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I have followed your recent reports and correspondence on the NHS hospital crisis with empathy, having served for more than 50 years (1941- 1993) from grass roots to top management in the NHS.

Until 1967 a comprehensive civil defence organisation existed in the UK with the basic objective of ensuring national survival in the event of a nuclear attack. The hospital arm of civil defence was the National Hospital Service Reserve.

It consisted of a corps of volunteers who agreed to undergo training in basic nursing techniques and, on completion of training, each member was required to serve at least 48 hours a year assisting on hospital wards to remain on the register. (Many did more.) Whilst not qualified nurses, many of these people became a valuable support to the often hard-pressed staff of their local hospital, generally being enthusiastic and familiar with the routines and practices of their wards. Most hospitals at that time maintained a register of those NHSR members who had expressed a willingness to serve at short notice in the event of severe staff shortages due to illness or other reasons.

The summary disbandment of the NHSR caused much dismay at the time to volunteers and nurse managers. Is there a case for resurrecting an organisation for a similar corps of volunteers? Most hospitals engender sympathetic support from their local community and the cost would be minimal - perhaps travelling expenses and meals for volunteers and a full-time organiser for recruitment, training and allocation.