Why supporting staff during the pandemic is so important

Heather Lawrence OBE profile picture

04 June 2020

Heather Lawrence OBE
Chair
London Ambulance Service


Heather Lawrence OBE, chair of London Ambulance Service, reflects on how important it is to support staff during these unprecedented times

As London begins its emergence from the greatest public health challenge in a century, and lockdown has started to ease across the nation to provide a small taste of the usual for us all during these unusual times, I have been thinking how important it is that staff are well supported.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, on a busy day we would take around 5,000 calls into our 999 control centres. In March, there were many days when there were more than 11,000 people trying to contact us by calling 999. This was mirrored in our 111 services in north east and south east London.

We could continue to support Londoners when they needed us the most because every one of our nearly 8,000 staff and volunteers was pulling in the same direction. The combined effort of our frontline staff, the many hundreds who volunteered to join us, the teams who support those on the frontline, and the chief executive and his executive team was inspiring to see.

Since March, we have provided a whole raft of measures to support colleagues so that they can continue to fulfil their crucial role for us without additional pressures.

Heather Lawrence OBE    Chair

I met with the trust board of London Ambulance Service last week remotely and we again discussed how difficult the last three months have been for all our staff and volunteers and for all our NHS colleagues across the capital.

Since March, we have provided a whole raft of measures to support colleagues so that they can continue to fulfil their crucial role for us without additional pressures. When the transport network necessarily reduced in London, and when colleagues worried they might put at risk loved ones in vulnerable groups while they were still under the same roof, we provided emergency accommodation to hundreds of staff so that they could still work. 

The many stories of those colleagues who, in order to keep working for us, had to leave their homes to protect vulnerable members of their household have been featured in the media in recent weeks: couples newly engaged, but then separated for months. Parents celebrating their young children’s birthdays through a glass window. There are many, many more examples.

When colleagues were working around the clock, we provided them with food donated to us by many businesses and community groups so that they could have lunch and dinner despite the fact that all the sandwich shops and restaurants are shut. The generosity and thoughtfulness of communities across London has been heart-warming.

We were inundated with offers from members of the public to volunteer to support our frontline clinicians. We’ve met pilots and musicians who, while they are unable to work, have been responding to patients fulltime as volunteer emergency responders.

The way we very quickly adjusted and adapted our working practices to respond to coronavirus was remarkable.

Heather Lawrence OBE    Chair

I am particularly humbled by the colleagues who have taken on the role no one wants ever to have the need to accept, that of a family liaison officer, when a much-loved colleague has passed away. We have lost seven people since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – not all of them to the virus, but each just as sad as the next. To their families, colleagues and friends I offer mine and the board’s condolences at this extraordinarily difficult time.

The way we very quickly adjusted and adapted our working practices to respond to coronavirus was remarkable. What struck me most was that so much of what we have needed to do, how we have needed to behave so that we could provide our lifesaving services to those that needed us was temporary; and there is much we want to keep  once we are mercifully free of this pandemic.

At a recent virtual meeting of our staff and volunteer advisory group, colleagues agreed that the wellbeing of our staff is paramount, and that it is achieved by staying focussed on our people. Our organisation is as strong as it is because of our people.

The way we very quickly adjusted and adapted our working practices to respond to coronavirus was remarkable.

Heather Lawrence OBE    Chair

I am delighted that during the response to COVID-19, we have established a system that allows managers to be available to talk to more crews starting and finishing their day’s work, and virtual mess rooms are popping up so staff can get together remotely to talk about the things that are concerning them or even just to chat to stay connected. These are just a couple of examples of measures brought in to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that we will keep: those focussed on the wellbeing of our people, our most vital resource.

We can now finally enjoy long awaited (although socially distanced) meetings with loved ones thanks to our efforts to observe the lockdown. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all my London Ambulance Service colleagues for everything they have done and continue to do, and everyone who has supported us during these unprecedented times.

About the author

Heather Lawrence OBE profile picture

Heather Lawrence OBE
Chair

Heather joined us as chair of the London Ambulance Service in April 2016, after her time as a non-executive director to the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Heather has significant operational experience in the healthcare sector as well as operating a number of UK Governmental Boards. She has over 40 years of frontline NHS experience and over 20 years’ experience as a chief executive officer in the hospital and healthcare sector.

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