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The NHS is stepping up a national campaign to recruit former members of the Armed Forces who want to join the health service and offer their valuable skills to caring for patients.

Running until March 2025, the new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan drive will encourage serving and retired armed forces personnel and their families to consider a career in one of the 14 allied health professions on offer in the health service.

Universities across England will host a series of open days across the country, who will use innovative technology to give attendees a virtual, real-time insight into some of the different careers on offer.

The first event will showcase careers in occupational therapy and will be hosted by Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and broadcast across five different university campuses.

Attendees will be able to watch an occupational therapist treat patients in real time from the point of view of the clinician who is wearing a digital headset. A second clinician will describe what their colleague is doing through a separate audio feed.

Each year at least 12,000 military personnel leave their roles in the armed forces for a variety of reasons, with many of them looking to switch career after completing their service.

Their transferable skills, including leadership, resilience and compassion, leave them with much to offer the NHS, and many already meet the entry requirements to undertake a suitable training programme.

The collaboration between NHS England, Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and participating universities, will support the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan ambition to have 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.

Allied health professions make up the third largest workforce in the NHS, behind doctors and nurses, and range from dietitians, radiographers and paramedics to podiatrists, orthotists, operating department practitioners and others.

Backed by government investment, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out how record numbers of doctors, nurses, dentists and other healthcare professionals will be trained in England.

Navina Evans, Chief Workforce Officer at NHS England, said: “This campaign is a fantastic example of the NHS finding new and innovative ways to showcase the brilliant careers on offer in the NHS – with armed force recruits able to experience different roles in real time before deciding if it is a career they would like to pursue.

“Growing the number of allied health professionals in the NHS is a key part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan - and our ambition is to increase the number of these professionals by around 70,000.

“To succeed in this goal and build a workforce which is fit for the future, we need to recruit staff from a wide range of backgrounds and former armed service personnel offer a fantastic depth of skills that are suited to these professions.”

Sandra Noonan, Chief Allied Health Professional, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Allied Health Professionals are an essential part of our health service – helping to treat, rehabilitate and improve the lives of our patients. By taking part in this new initiative, we hope to support members of the Armed Forces community to consider an exciting and valuable career as an AHP, where they can make a difference to the lives of many people.”

Dr Andrew Murrison, Minister for Defence People and Families said: “The UK's Armed Forces have some of very best people in the workforce. I want our people to stay in Defence but their personal qualities, skills and experience make them highly attractive to any organisation. NHS England's campaign offers new and rewarding opportunities to service leavers looking for a career within our health service.”

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “We want the UK to be the best place in the world for veterans, who have done so much to keep our country and people safe.

“The NHS stands to benefit immeasurably from their training, qualifications and experience, and this campaign demonstrates our commitment to support veterans to pursue rewarding careers after service.

“The first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan – backed by £2.4 billion – sets out how we’ll address existing vacancies by recruiting and retaining hundreds of thousands more staff to put the NHS on a sustainable footing.”

Minister of State for Veterans' Affairs, Johnny Mercer, said: “We’re committed to harnessing the talent, skills and experience of our ex-service men and women, as they transition into civilian life.

“This scheme will make a valuable contribution to the Government’s mission, getting veterans into fulfilling careers that realise their potential.

“After all, the values of hard work, brave service and responsibility that drive our Armed Forces are also at the beating heart of the NHS.”

Ashley Smith was a trainee electronics technician in the British Army. He now works as a senior dietitian in the NHS.

When he left the army in 2000, he didn't have a clear idea of what career would come next but did know that he had a keen interest in health, fitness and eating well, so was hoping to find something that would combine those interests into a future career.

In 2003 Ashley was working within the NHS as support worker for people with learning disabilities, and while taking a client for their appointment with a dietitian, he was introduced to the work of allied health professionals.

“I went home that evening and googled dietitian and came across the world of AHPs.”

With his highest qualifications being GCSEs, Ashley knew he would have to find a way to get to university, without A levels.

“With the help of my partner (now my wife!) we looked into alternative ways to get onto a degree course. I ended up enrolling onto an access course in science at North Trafford College which was a recognised pathway into higher education.

“Work was really supportive and arranged my shifts around the days I wasn’t at college. After completing the course, I applied to several universities to undertake a BSc in Dietetics. I was lucky enough to be offered a place at Leeds Metropolitan University. I started my degree in 2005 when I was 25 and qualified when I was 29; it was four-year degree, with the third year being a placement within an NHS dietetic department.”

Having qualified, Ashley was able to see similarities between his former career and working in the NHS. “In the forces you have experienced being part of very big organisation that operates in a pressured environment and also in both careers, your team is crucial.

“Being a dietitian is a really good career because it can be as varied as you would like it to be. One day, I will be seeing patients, the next I will be teaching nursing staff, junior doctors and other AHPs or being involved in research projects. Being a Critical Care Dietitian I see patients at their worst, and I help them through this period with nutrition support; there is nothing better than seeing them leave the critical care unit and working with them on their journey to recovery.

“If you are thinking of a career in an allied health profession, everything is achievable, you just need to seek the correct guidance and support to help you on your way. Try to get experience shadowing AHPs to get a feel for the job and find out as much as you can about the profession. I left the army with only GCSE qualifications but with support, encouragement and the determination you get from the armed forces, I got to where I wanted to be. If I can do then, then everyone else can too.”

Issued by NHS England April 2nd 2024