In My Shoes - Steve Farnsworth, General manager for Fleet and Logistics

In My Shoes - Steve Farnsworth, General manager for Fleet and Logistics

Steve Farnsworth pictured in front of ambulances

A global pandemic. 16,000 masks required every day to keep our crews safe. Challenge accepted.

“The most important thing for me was keeping our colleagues – who are really our friends and family – safe. And that meant making sure we didn’t run out of PPE.”

Steve Farnsworth has been General Manager of Fleet Services and Logistics at EMAS for 14 years. And while he has faced some challenging winters in the NHS over the years, never before had he and his team been tested to the absolute limits as they were in the first few months of COVID-19.

He said: “I’m an avid watcher of the news and although I saw what was happening in China, it looked like they had a grip on it, so before March it never crossed my mind that it would reach the scale it has done, and so quickly.”

Like many people, life at home continued as normal for Steve other than buying a couple of extra tins while out shopping in case of a lockdown.

But at work he started to see equipment supply chains suddenly become really busy and conversations became more tense as the pandemic began to hit the UK.

Before he knew it, Steve and his management team were working 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week, to source, receive and distribute vital PPE to frontline colleagues to keep them safe.

And although Steve could have worked from home because his two children, aged 6 and 8 were at school, and his wife was still working as a head teacher, he says he wanted to make sure he was leading from the front and showing it was safe by being in work every day.

“We were really in the thick of it. It was tense and hectic, but it was also very focused and really rewarding making sure our colleagues would be safe. Seeing news of staff in other trusts who had passed away from COVID really brought home the importance of what we were doing.

“We were getting rumblings that there wasn’t PPE on some vehicles, so we introduced PPE2V – PPE to vehicles. This was a real shift in tradition from having boxes on stations, to delivering PPE directly to ambulances.

“We also split the boxes of masks up to make sure they went further, and worked on a ‘just in time’ basis so that everyone had the PPE that they needed, when they needed it.”

Team packing PPE.jpg

As PPE stock began to dwindle across the UK, our Fleet and Logistics management team got creative to make sure EMAS never ran out. Most of them previously worked in the motor industry so they knew the coveralls were used there too, so they used their contacts to arrange for thousands to be delivered in the early days of the pandemic.

Further challenges arose in the coming weeks, and no-one could be sure what would be in the daily PPE delivery from the national NHS supply chain when it arrived.

He said: “I never thought I would feel such joy at receiving a PPE delivery, it was like Christmas. We were elated when we received what we needed.”

What stands out most for Steve from that time was what he calls ‘the Dunkirk spirit’ as society pulled together in a way he had never seen before.

Steve describes how colleagues from across the organisation including frontline staff on alternative duties, furloughed Patient Transport Service volunteers, the executive PAs, the chief executive and some of the other executives, formed production lines in the Alfreton workshop packing PPE, or drove across the country to deliver PPE to our crews. 

Steve in the workshop.jpg

He was also blown away by the donations from companies across the UK, even those we don’t normally trade with.

He said: “Volkswagon sent us a spreadsheet of different vehicles and said ‘tell us what you need and we will get it to you’, and Ford did the same, all for free. That was pretty amazing and it helped us with PPE distribution.

“We also received PPE and shared PPE with colleagues from other ambulance services, depending on what was needed.  I’m sure those networks we have built during COVID will continue into the future.”

Steve explains he has learned a lot over the last six months – that he has some ‘real stars’ in his team, that a managed service approach to PPE and consumables works best (hence the work on reorganising storerooms on stations), and that the organisation really did have staff safety as its first priority.

He added: “We run Fleet and Logistics like a business because we are very aware we are spending public money. But I knew that when I asked the executives for something that would keep our colleagues safe, there was never any hesitation in making that investment. We could have whatever was needed.

“We have a good stock of PPE going into winter, and we’ve already rolled out the personal-issue respirator hoods to every division – I don’t know of any other service that has done something like that.”

But there is only one thing Steve would have done differently.

“I would have gone for a haircut on the Saturday before lockdown with my son like I was supposed to. I looked like Nigel Havers by the end of June.”