Scott Thornton is the Armed Forces Community Healthcare Project Manager at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust (BCHC). Here, he tells Civvy Street Magazine about why Service-leavers are likely to become more important throughout the medical sector, and how important it is for us all to be aware of the health and social care needs of the Armed Forces community.
Can you tell me a little more about your specific role?
In 2012, a Veteran’s health event took place where we got feedback from Veterans and their families on their needs and their expectations of the NHS. This successful event was held at the West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre, an award winning centre that provides excellent care to amputees in the region. The centre has assisted over 60 veterans in their recovery through a range of rehabilitation services and the Trust has been recognised as one of nine nationally designated Veteran Amputee Rehabilitation Centres within England.
Feedback from the Veterans health event contributed to the decision made by BCHC to create a service to identify, scope and assist our Armed Forces community. My role was created to investigate the issues and challenges that our Armed Forces community are facing, in terms of access to public services and transition into civilian life, and looking at some of the healthcare needs, both now and also into the future.
I feel that the job market has changed quite substantially. The ability to find a role in a public service which might emulate that of the Armed Forces, for example, the Police Force, Fire Service and paramedics, have all felt the strain of the recession and have reduced recruitment. So it’s about defining and developing opportunities across the market, where the skills and qualities developed in the Armed Forces can then be applied. Alternatively, whether organisations look at Service-leavers and think well: those are the personal qualities and skills our organisation needs, perhaps without the education attainment, but what can we do to facilitate that process? (There’s also that transition phase to take into consideration.) If you’ve Served seven to 12 years, your values, behaviours and beliefs are going to be quite different from those of the civilian world. Whilst much of that can be of great benefit, it may be a challenge to adjust and resettle into a civilian career.
Do you have colleagues in the Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust who have Served?
Yeah, we employ a number of ex-Servicepeople across the Trust. As the NHS is a predominantly female dominated workforce and the Armed Forces a male one, this did some as a surprise. We held an event on 11 November where we signed the Corporate Covenant and we had, approximately 30 staff attending from a variety of different backgrounds in the Armed Forces. We received some great feedback from the group and it demonstrated the value of employing ex-Servicepeople.
The dental hospital is just one part of our service: we’ve got three divisions, ‘Adults and Community Division’, ‘Children and Families Division’ and finally our ‘Specialist Services’ which includes the dental hospital, learning disability services and the West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre. We therefore provide a very wide range of services to the community in Birmingham. As a Trust we are keen to employ ex-Servicepeople to a wide range of clinical and non-clinical roles in recognition of the skills and qualities developed in the Armed Forces.
Is an NHS hospital a good career move for a Service-leaver coming out of the Forces with medical skills, experience and qualifications? What’s the transition like?
I think it depends. Obviously, there are a wide range of careers in the Armed Forces. Those that seem to find the transition more challenging are the early Service-leavers. Those that have joined the Army with few qualifications, Served less than three years and are seeking new employment. Those with civilian recognised qualifications i.e. healthcare professions, engineering and communications appear to have fewer difficulties. If they’ve gone towards the medical profession the likelihood is that the job market is open to them if they want to continue down that career path. I think it’s quite widely recognised that many skills and qualities developed on the medical side or dental side, for that matter, (whilst in the Forces) are well sought after by employers.
Presumably there’s no issue with the standards of training within the Armed Forces and they bring other experiences with them too…
From the experience I’ve had, they’re well regarded – highly motivated, loyal and very driven to succeed. Their regimented processing, awareness and ‘can do’ attitude bring a very positive energy to the workplace. They bring many other sought after skills too, like organisational abilities, time-management and leadership skills that any organisation can benefit from.
There seems to be a constant skills shortage in the NHS. The prognosis for medically qualified Service-leavers must be pretty good.
I’d say so. The NHS at the moment is actively recruiting across all areas. I suppose you could argue that it’s growing in line with demand particularly on the nursing side. But there are other roles open as well to those that aren’t from a medical background. There are roles in the NHS for others, perhaps from the managerial perspective because the operational side is arguably as important as the delivery of care. This is why we plan to formulate an NHS placement scheme for the Armed Forces community to gain valuable work experience and to explore various careers within the NHS.
How should Service-leavers present themselves to employers in the medical sector?
There’s a two part process to that really. I think on one side there’s the raising of awareness in amongst the NHS that the Armed Forces bring with them a certain set of skills and qualities that are sought after, applicable and valuable.
There’s definitely also the other half of saying that if they have Served in the Armed Forces then there are perhaps things that they haven’t mentioned that they’ve experienced as a result of Service. For a Service-leaver to be able to express effectively that they do have the skills required for a job role through their experiences within the Forces is a key component. I suppose the first thing to be looked at from a medical perspective is qualifications and competencies gained in Service. Whereas other professions may want to highlight the personal skills and qualities developed during Service with organisations working towards building the formal academic qualifications for employment.