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Reservist NHS army

Reservist NHS army

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One man’s idea to create a Territorial Army for the NHS to help it deal with future crises…

“I was having a bit of a rant at the television or talking to my wife about it and I thought I should try and do something with this idea.”

Geoffrey Cruickshanks

What Geoffrey Cruickshanks is describing is such a common experience. Shouting at your screen or answering back when you hear the news. 

“It was in the height of the pandemic and it seemed like the whole nation’s hopes were resting on these poor people in the NHS and, you know, I just thought we must be able to do something a bit more than just go out an applaud and bang pots and pans and I just thought, what can we, what can the average member of the public do to help?”

Geoffrey Cruickshanks

Geoffrey doesn’t work in the health service – he’s a retired lawyer, in fact – but he had this idea: what if there could be thousands of people – a pool of experienced help – always on hand to get the NHS through a crisis.

He took his inspiration from the part-time volunteer wing of the British Army – that was used during world wars and later became the Army Reserve, which also provided years of support in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The model that occurred to me was the territorial army, you know, why can we have military reserves and not medical, NHS reservists? So, that was the idea and from there just using the TA example it really all came together from there”

Geoffrey Cruickshanks

Not long after his rant at the TV, Geoffrey Cruikshanks saw an advert – for the Heywood Prize for Public Policy, and he decided to enter.

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The idea of an NHS reserve force is so brilliantly simple, the only surprise is that nobody has thought of it before. 

Most emergency services in the UK – the police, the Fire and Rescue Service –  have some form of reserve force.

So when Geoffrey won the Heywood prize, his idea was shared with the UK government and from that point things moved quickly. This is how the MP Alan Mak presented the NHS reservists bill to parliament:

“Madam deputy speaker, every year around 75,000 clinical staff leave the NHS. And they are people with relevant skills that could help at times of national or local emergency. Therefore the NHS reserves would also offer a route for experienced staff to continue helping the health service after stepping down from paid employment.”

Alan Mak MP

Geoffrey Cruikshanks’ idea has now been turned into reality by NHS England. 

Since it was launched at five sites last year, more than 17,000 people have joined up to become NHS reservists. People like Emma Holmes, a retail worker of 25 years who became a reservist after being furloughed during the pandemic and found a role helping with the NHS’s vaccination drive at her local vaccine centre.

All thanks to a rant at the TV by one man with no experience in public policy making.

And that is exactly the point.

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“I set up the Heywood Prize because the two things Jeremy was very passionate about were innovation and diversity in the public sector. Innovation in public policy and I wanted to encourage as wide a group of people as possible to send in the most innovative ideas as possible to make this country better.”

Suzanne Heywood

That’s Suzanne Heywood, the founder of the prize, talking about her late husband, Jeremy Heywood. 

You might not have heard of him, but Jeremy advised five UK prime ministers from John Major through to Theresa May. He was a civil servant who was well known for his creative solutions. 

But he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 and died just a few months later. 

At Jeremy Heywood’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey, Gordon Brown explained what happened when he left Downing Street  in 2010: “ I left a handwritten note to David Cameron saying ‘The country is in good hands, Jeremy is running it’.”

With the Heywood prize, his wife Suzanne hopes to continue the legacy of Jeremy’s work.

“We’re looking for the best ideas and one of Jeremy’s principles was the best ideas often come from the most unexpected places. So if somebody has a great idea they should send it to us.”

Suzanne Heywood

Last year’s entries came from all over the world and this year the judges especially want to hear from young people with great ideas that can bring big change.

“The focus of the prize this year is on finding ideas to change public policy ideas and make this country better. Now those ideas could cover anything. They could cover healthcare or they could cover how city centres are run how we become greener as a country. How we better teach people. How we better look after our elderly. It could cover anything. We are looking for ideas that are innovative, ideas that are scalable and that could affect a relatively small number of people in a profound way or a relatively large number of people in perhaps a less profound way.”

Suzanne Heywood

If you have an idea you think could change things for the better go to heywoodfoundation.com/contest. Applications are open until midnight on the 31st December 2022. 

Shouting at your screen might be the start of a revolution.


This episode was written by Sophie Fenton and mixed by Rebecca Moore.