North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) recently marked the one-year anniversary of the first UK transfer of a COVID-19 patient. On 31 January 2020, a team from NEAS Hazardous Area Response Team were tasked with transporting the country’s first COVID-19 patient from Hull to the infectious diseases’ unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle. A year on, NEAS have reflected on the challenges it brought and how their fantastic staff pulled together to overcome those obstacles.
We spoke to NEAS to ask how they have supported their employees’ health and wellbeing this year.
Recognising the impact
Some new staff were recruited, others in supporting services were redeployed into different roles supporting the front line; and the generous support of volunteers and the general public was overwhelming. New tasks needed to be achieved, including accessing and supplying PPE, enhanced cleaning, swabbing and testing, rolling out vaccine and managing outbreaks. In the early days this was set against a backdrop of ever-changing guidance as we learned more about the virus. And over this winter, the increased demand has placed additional pressures on the Trust’s operations. This pushed their logistical capability and operating model to new levels and inevitably staff are now feeling tired.
Like others across the country, some NEAS staff have tested positive for the virus. Some have recovered quickly and others continue to battle the longer-term health implications. Some staff have been shielding, whilst others have been very worried about taking the virus home to their families. Many have needed to balance carer responsibilities with work, including home schooling and ensuring older, vulnerable or sick relatives are okay. The disproportionate impact of the virus on the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population was recognised, and the added layer of concern this brought for its BAME staff.
NEAS talk proudly of their whole team’s response to the pandemic. That no task has been too big for their staff, how they quickly adapted to different and new challenges and ways of working, and that it has been real team effort. This has, in part, been achieved by the steps they have taken to help maintain morale, keep spirits up and support those needed it most.
The response of our staff, their families and loved ones who support them has been and is now, quite honestly, simply amazing.’ Helen Ray, NEAS Chief Executive
Bringing staff together
Creating staff networks and ensuring regular contact with colleagues who were homeworking, shielding or unwell has been essential to ensure all colleagues remain connected and supported.
NEAS’s disability staff network group was extended to include staff who were shielding. Regular communication and check-ins were made to ensure these staff did not feel isolated and remained connected. Many virtual coffee chats were had!
New groups were set up to encourage and support colleagues to share interests and hobbies. This included a photography group, which led to the sharing of inspirational images and touching moments that have really motivated and inspired colleagues. This has really connected staff and enabled them to express themselves and share their important experiences.
NEAS’s online health hub was filled with resources supporting both mental and physical health. Content was informed by pulse surveys and information being received from staff and managers about the impact and need for support.
Resources supported managers to support staff. The existence of the hub and the resources it provided were accessible and regularly communicated to staff.
Creating a safe workplace
In the early days of the pandemic, information was confusing and advice changed quickly; while the need for new safety equipment to protect staff grew as we learned more about Covid-19.
As NEAS’s knowledge grew, those who were more vulnerable because of underlying health conditions or ethnicity were supported and moved to different roles and provided with different types of PPE. More practical challenges, such as phobias, physical characteristics and the need to accommodate religious dress, were met with adapted PPE. Where possible, alternative roles were found for those who were unable to work in front line roles.
There was regular engagement with the unions, managers and staff groups to explore concerns and find solutions. As much as possible was done to ensure staff felt safe, and this included enhanced cleaning, the provision of clear information and equipment to meet the needs of their diverse staff, and more recently, access to vaccines.
Celebrating and valuing employees
NEAS’s usual annual awards night, which brings the organisation together to celebrate its achievement and success and recognise who have excelled in the previous year, could not be held in its usual format. However, more than ever, it was felt that a night of recognition and thanks should be held, while not singling any individual out as a “winner” during a year of exceptional achievement from everyone. For many, it will have been the toughest year of their career and it was important to recognise this and celebrate and acknowledge everyone’s amazing contribution.
More staff than ever nominated peers and colleagues for going above and beyond the call of duty. Every nomination received thanks and acknowledgement. And all of this was reflected in a live seven-hour broadcast across the whole service on the Trust’s staff engagement platform, which also gave colleagues the opportunity to comment and share their thoughts on the success and efforts of others. This brought staff from the Scottish borders to the North Yorks Moors all together.
Each member of staff received a NEAS superhero badge – a small token of thanks for their superb response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It acknowledged that every member of the team had been vital to achieve their excellence results in 2020, and that each individual staff member was one piece of an amazing jigsaw that is NEAS.
NEAS’s Chief Executive, Helen Ray, wrote to the children, family members and pets of staff to thank them for supporting and allowing their loved ones to do their important work during the pandemic.
More about NEAS
To find out more about how the NEAS has responded to the pandemic and how they have supported colleagues visit their website and read their Working through a global pandemic – One year on blog.
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