An NHS cadet programme launched to coincide with the service’s 72nd birthday hopes to encourage thousands of marginalised teenagers into the health workforce.
Teenagers aged between 14 and 18 will be given first aid and leadership skills training and volunteer opportunities within the NHS in a partnership with St John Ambulance.
The £6 million programme, funded equally by both partners, aims to improve patient care while offering a route into employment for up to 10,000 young people.
It is being piloted in Colchester, Hull and London and will be rolled out to Liverpool, Bradford, Hertfordshire and the Wirral in the coming months.
Organisers hope 10,000 young people will have enrolled by 2023.
They are seeking people from marginalised backgrounds and those who may not have previously considered an NHS career, such as those not in employment, education or training and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
Chief nurse for the NHS Ruth May said: “The start of 2020 has been a challenging time for the NHS and its staff who have cared for 100,000 people with Covid-19 who needed specialist treatment and countless more besides, while working to redesign services and even build the Nightingale hospitals.
“However, this would not have been possible without the help and support of countless individuals including volunteers who are already making an enormous contribution
“Volunteers could and should never replace nurses, doctors and other staff but since the NHS’s foundation on July 5 1948 they have played a fantastic role in supporting clinicians and assisting patients and this initiative sits firmly in that tradition.
“By introducing an NHS cadets programme we are now offering young people a genuine opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to work in the best health service in the world.”
The programme launches as the NHS celebrates its birthday during one of the most challenging periods in the service’s 70-plus years.
There are around 131,000 cadets in England covering a range of areas such as policing and the military, while St John Ambulance has a network of 11,000 young volunteers,
Martin Houghton-Brown, St John Ambulance chief executive, said: “Young people thrive when they are given the chance to put into practice their skills and knowledge. At St John, we have been providing opportunities to do this with first aid for over 100 years.
“This partnership with the NHS will create a new generation of young people motivated to learn more about health volunteering and social action. The unique hands-on experience that being a cadet provides will undoubtedly lead to many future healthcare professionals emerging.
“We are delighted to be focusing on young people to whom this may otherwise be unavailable, trusting them to care for others alongside NHS professionals”.