Working during a global pandemic - one year on

Working during a global pandemic - one year on

“We couldn’t have done any of this without our fantastic staff!”

That’s the message from North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) as it looks back over the last year to mark the one-year anniversary of the first UK transfer of a COVID-19 patient, carried out by a NEAS crew.

On 31 January 2020, at the very start of the pandemic, when a team from the North East’s Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) were tasked with transporting the country’s first COVID-19 patient from Hull to the infectious diseases unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle.

What was at that point an unusual day at the office quickly turned into business as usual for ambulance services across the country – with ambulance staff having to quickly get to grips with new personal protective equipment and infection control protocols designed to keep themselves and their patients safe in unprecedented times.

Watch our year in numbers here:

Over the course of the year, NEAS:

  • Answered 512,182 NHS111 calls and 147,339 emergency 999 calls, of which 52,362 related to COVID-19
  • Attended 401,268 incidents, of which 9,020 related to COVID-19
  • Transported 267,522 patients to hospital, and a further 346,558 patients to pre-planned hospital appointments, including dialysis and cancer treatment
  • Helped 1,079 emergency 999 callers to do life-saving CPR
  • Invested an extra £11.45m specifically on its response to COVID-19
  • Supplied millions of pieces of PPE to keep frontline staff safe
  • Initiated its own procedures to swab staff members and their families
  • Launched new internal processes and technologies to keep staff informed of an ever-changing picture
  • Redeployed over 100 support staff to help the frontline
  • Recruited and trained more than 100 members of the public to be COVID volunteers, many of whom have gone on to gain employment within the service
  • Recruited an additional 30 GPs and 122 call handlers to support the Emergency Operations Centre
  • Supplied clinicians with specialist equipment to allow them to work remotely from home and trained paramedics to provide additional clinical support to patients over the phone
  • Moved its annual awards ceremony online, providing staff with a chance to thank each other
  • Launched drive-through flu clinics to ensure staff were able to access their flu vaccine safely
  • Supplied thousands of lateral flow tests to detect the virus in asymptomatic staff and began
  • Supported the North East vaccine clinics at the Centre for Life in Newcastle as well as introducing its own internal vaccination clinics

A group of staff also had the chance to meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson over Zoom in July so he could thank them for their efforts.

Helen Ray, North East Ambulance Service Chief Executive, said: “At the point of the first transfer I don’t think any of us were anticipating the impact this virus would have on our lives. The personal and work impact on all of us has been huge.

“Some of our team have tested positive for the virus and recovered. Some of them continue to battle the longer-term health implications and some of them continue to shield to avoid becoming infected.

“Those in our team with carer responsibilities have had to balance these with work and whether they have been home schooling, ensuring older relatives are okay or managing their own physical or mental health, I do not underestimate the pressures they will have felt.

“Our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population has been disproportionately impacted, and I am actively aware that for our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff, this has added another layer of concern linked to protecting themselves and their families.

“PPE, enhanced cleaning, ever changing guidance, operational pressures, deployment into different roles, swabbing and testing, rolling out vaccine and managing outbreaks have pushed our logistical capability and operating model to new levels and this continues through the current wave which is linked to the new variant of this virus.

“The response of our staff, their families and loved ones who support them has been and is now, quite honestly, simply amazing. 

“As we mark this very difficult year, I wanted to say a very public Thank You to our staff!

“Thank you also to our partners and our patients who continue to support us in these difficult times.

“We have a way to go yet and we are weary, but we will support each other through the coming weeks and months and together come through this and grow stronger.

“Stay safe and be kind to yourself and each other.”

To read the story of the first COVID transfer, visit /news/2020/july/31/6-months-on-from-the-first-patient.aspx

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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