The ambulance service has played a pivotal role in the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The surge in coronavirus-related demand was felt acutely by ambulance trusts at the start of the outbreak, with pressure increasing rapidly on 999 and NHS 111 services.
Ambulance trust leaders were immediately focused on ensuring their services were resilient and able to provide the same level of care for patients while also protecting and caring for their staff.
As the health and care sector moves firmly to management of a second wave of the disease, it is timely to look at trust leaders’ reflections on the first wave.
As part of their excellent “In Conversation With….” series, the NHS Providers team recently spoke to Daren Mochrie, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service and newly appointed chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives.
They asked Daren about his reflections and learnings from the pandemic to date, the challenges faced by the ambulance sector, how trusts have come together to overcome these challenges, and what trusts need from national/regional bodies to support their response to future COVID-related demand and returning to near-normal levels of non-COVID health services.
The discussion shows how the ambulance service is uniquely positioned to offer a joined-up perspective at a regional level to identify successes and the challenges that lie ahead in planning the future shape of healthcare services.
The interview highlights the speed with which the ambulance sector was able to increase resourcing in 999 and 111 call centres and in operations out in the community. It points to successes in recruiting and training additional staff and volunteers, and the way trusts worked together to share learning and divert resources as needed.
Daren emphasises how proud he is of the way staff in a variety of roles worked so tirelessly:
This has been the biggest challenge ever faced by the ambulance sector, the whole of the NHS and the country. I have been in the ambulance sector for nearly 30 years and I didn’t think for one minute we would be dealing with a pandemic on this scale.
The interview also sets out his key priorities as chair of AACE:
- ensure the sector is prepared for COVID-19 this winter
- look after the mental health and wellbeing of staff
- provide system leadership
- build on digital capability within the service
- improve equality and diversity in the sector
He also emphasises the need to make it easier for patients and their families to get the support they need by having fewer access points to care, and expresses hope that the NHS 111 First early adopter sites will prove effective in helping to manage the ever-increasing demand for NHS services.
Looking ahead, Daren also stresses the importance of ambulance services having a seat at the table nationally, regionally and at system level as they have a huge contribution to make.