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Alan Mak is the MP for Havant. He introduced the NHS Reserve Staff Bill in Parliament to create the NHS Reserves in November 2020.

“Our NHS is the beating heart of this country” the Prime Minister stated after receiving his own lifesaving treatment for Coronavirus. His words reflected those of everyone in our country when it comes to the health service.

For many voters on the doorstep, the NHS remains a central issue they want us to focus on. YouGov tracks weekly the issues that are on the mind of the British public. Since the start of the pandemic, more than half of voters have consistently said health is one of the three biggest issues facing the country.

Therefore, as the party of government, it’s more vital than ever that we demonstrate our ability to manage and shape an NHS that can respond not only to today’s immediate demands, but which is also fit for the future. Adapting to societal change, innovating to meet patients’ needs, and reform to become more agile and productive are all key. These must remain key Conservative priorities, as they have been throughout our stewardship of the health service.

For over 40 of the 73 years that the NHS has been in existence, it has been under the care of Conservative governments. We have nurtured and transformed it from the fledgling organisation proposed during Churchill’s wartime administration to the £162 billion NHS that today deals with one million patients every 36 hours and 20 million hospital admissions every year.

Despite its growing and committed workforce, unexpected peaks in demand still arise. Whether it’s dealing with Coronavirus admissions, seasonal upticks, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, health and civil emergencies or major incidents such as traffic accidents, the NHS needs a flexible workforce.

We also need to continue tackling the backlogs caused by Coronavirus. The Health Secretary has rightly recognised we need to take action and as he said in his Conference speech “No government, no health secretary, no society can accept” an NHS waiting list that has been driven by pandemic pressures.

A commitment to innovation and ensuring the health service moves with the times are just two reasons why the Government has announced that the NHS Reserves will be launched as a new member of the NHS family. In November 2020, I proposed the NHS Reserve Staff Bill in Parliament, and I’m delighted to see the NHS Reserve Programme being rolled out across the country.

The new NHS Reserves will provide both clinical and non-clinical staff to supplement full-time NHS workers during times of high demand.

It’s part of the refreshing, reforming zeal the Health Secretary is bringing to the job. He wants to “embrace innovation and to build a truly modern” and “sustainable service for the future”. The NHS Reserves achieves this by building upon the work many NHS Trusts have already done throughout the pandemic through the return to work of thousands of former NHS staff.

Following the introduction of my bill in Parliament, NHS England launched initial NHS Reserves pilots. They proved popular, with 17,000 reservists already recruited from just eight pilot schemes. From April this year, the NHS Reserves Pilot will be expanded and fully implemented across all 42 integrated care systems in every part of England.

The Reservists provide NHS employers such as hospitals and trusts with a flexible but reliable workforce to supplement the permanent workforce and to help protect elective care.

While the priority for patients is ensuring that they have care when they need it, they also need to have the utmost confidence in the treatment they receive. The hallmark of the NHS has always been and always will be the quality of care received.

Everyone in this country knows that they will receive the highest compassion, support and care from our world-class doctors and nurses. So it’s vital that whether care is provided by regular staff or a reservist it should be the same high quality. That is why the NHS Reservists will have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to provide care and treatment, night or day, 365 days a year. Through the NHS Reserve system they will be given training and in-role experience to keep qualifications up to date, just like their Armed Forces counterparts.

As a Conservative family, we should be proud of our party’s stewardship of the NHS. I hope the creation of the NHS Reserves will show that once again it is us Conservatives that are leading the way when it comes to thinking about how our health service adapts, innovates, and thrives in response to new challenges. Whilst the Covid-19 outbreak has brought so many negatives, the new NHS Reserves can serve as permanent and positive legacy that we can all support with pride.

As the Prime Minister said the devotion, duty and love of those in the NHS makes it the organisation it is today. We have the opportunity to build a better NHS through those who are willing to serve as NHS Reservists, giving it the flexibility it needs to provide care no matter the pressures on its service.

I hope ConservativeHome readers will consider signing up as NHS Reservists in the future.