"When the Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said in mid-March that keeping the UK deaths below 20,000 would be a good outcome; those words ‘a good outcome’ just scared me."
He was only a couple of months into his new role when Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion Neelesh Sutaria heard the news that we were heading into lockdown due to the global pandemic.
Having a role which focussed on the health and wellbeing of our workforce meant Neelesh was thrown in at the deep end.
He said: "There was no handbook for myself and the team. I’ve never experienced a pandemic before.
"We were trying to understand what was going on and interpret a lot of information very quickly, so we could support colleagues. National and scientific developments and guidance were changing rapidly. Information would change on a daily basis; no sooner had we put a message out we were having to revise it and send new guidance out.
"It has been quite challenging, and we were all learning at the same time."
Neelesh has been part of the COVID Coordination group and has had a key role in advising on HR and support mechanisms. He led the work on carrying out risk assessments, which started with those more at risk from COVID and has now encompassed the whole organisation. He is also a member of our regional and national health and wellbeing networks; helping EMAS to understand what other health organisations are doing so we can share resources, advice and best practice.
He said: "There is a lot of information out there. It’s making sure we’re getting the right information and sharing it."
As well as being challenged by his work Neelesh also faced the change of moving to working from home.
He said: "Initially it was a novelty, as I wasn’t having to do the daily commute, but then the realisation came that my home was now my workplace. I had to figure out what I needed to work from home effectively and where I could do it.
"You have to be aware of the people around you and their needs and requirements too. My daughter had to work from home too from her University work placement, so we had to find spaces for both of us where we could work."
Neelesh also had to become more disciplined about his working arrangements because things were developing quickly, and he found himself like other colleagues working additional hours, some weekends and on occasion being on call to provide advice and support to the organisation and colleagues.
He added: "Our priority was (and is) to support the health and wellbeing of colleagues, which in turn has helped us to continue to provide quality care for our patients, so it was necessary to do the extra hours."
Many colleagues who are now working from home have found separating work and home life difficult.
Neelesh gave the following advice: "I factored in regular breaks while working and would go for my half hour walk at the end of the day. It helped me to take time between work and home life to clear my head and refresh."
He added: "While I have a dedicated workspace I have also identified an alternative workspace to give myself a change of environment. For example, sitting in an easy chair in the lounge for a conference call. Also, I try to keep moving, hydrated and eat healthily."
Neelesh’s work continues to focus on supporting colleagues, as his team constantly review the support we provide at EMAS and work with the Communications team to share the national support available.
Looking after your health and mental wellbeing is something Neelesh can’t stress enough and he says it helped him through the lockdown, which was for an extended period for him as he lives in an area of Leicestershire which had high levels of COVID.
"Everyone was coming out of lockdown in the summer but Oadby and Wigston continued to have restrictions and we couldn’t enjoy the freedoms and flexibilities others could. It was difficult as we didn’t know what the exit strategy was so didn’t have the light at the end of the tunnel."
One of the good things Neelesh says he has seen because of the pandemic is the way colleagues have pulled together.
He said: "We have faced an unprecedented challenge and I have been struck by, in a good way, how positive everyone has been and how we’ve worked together as team.
"We didn’t know what we were facing, no one did, but we didn’t let that stop us and we’ve dealt with it.
"The commitment of everyone has been fantastic. We’ve worked together and supported each other. It’s made me prouder than ever to work for EMAS."