For Amanda and her team, the pandemic continues to present a constant challenge.
In the last 12 months it has been harder than ever to ensure East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has the right information about staff resourcing levels, absences and working hours so that colleagues receive the right pay for all they are doing, and our patients get the right response to their emergencies.
Amanda manages the Central Resourcing team, who are responsible for delivery of the our rostering system and has found that during COVID-19, she and her small team of three have had to work more closely with colleagues from departments across EMAS.
Amanda said: “I really feel that enabling services have pulled together during this crisis and worked as one team to support our frontline colleagues to deliver care.”
Amanda recalls at the start of the pandemic when she used to listen to the news on the drive into work and wonder if the new virus in Wuhan would spread to our country.
She said: “I remember thinking I really hope they get that under control but then the news escalated on a daily basis.
“Towards January, early February, I wondered if we needed to define a new absence and thought I’ll do one just in case.”
So, the term ‘medical stand down’ was born. Since then it’s been the most used absence type and there are now ten different versions of it.
With every new piece of national guidance that’s delivered, such as those around shielding and self-isolation, Amanda and her team have to react immediately to make sure the organisation has a process to record absences accurately.
Accurately recording staffing levels, and the reasons for absence, is not only important to help us respond to demand, but also to provide daily situation reports to NHS England and Improvement to give the wider NHS picture. This in turn has influenced the national response to the pandemic.
On top of the pressures to make sure the absence recording processes were in place, the Central Resourcing team also delivered the various pay-effecting schemes we have run to support our frontline to meet demand; such as the annual leave buy-back and overtime incentive schemes and managed the increased levels of private ambulance provider support, and fire service support. In addition, they have also guided local resourcing teams through all these processes.
As NHS Employers issued changing guidance around Terms and Conditions during the pandemic, it was a constant challenge to adapt our rostering system and existing practices to ensure staff received pay and hours to which they were entitled.
Amanda said: “Every time it came back to us to find a way of recording and reporting it and making sure that people were paid what they were entitled to. We had to move fast to develop our rostering system to make sure those processes were all in place.
“My team have been absolutely amazing throughout, the hours and hard work they have put in to deliver all that has been asked has been outstanding.
“It’s not always obvious what the Central Resourcing Team do as a lot of the behind-the-scenes work goes ‘under the radar’ but I couldn’t have asked for a better, more supportive, group of colleagues and friends to work with during this time. I am so proud of them all.”
Originally based on the top floor of our headquarters, as well as a hugely increased workload Amanda and her team also had the big change of working from home to cope with.
Amanda recalls the moment they were told they needed to work from home.
She said: “It was a case of grab what you think you’ll need for the next month when we were told. At that point there was no indication it would be a long-term solution.
“At first, it was great to work from home and not have the drive in but then schools also closed. I didn’t have anywhere to work from home at that point and neither did my 13-year-old son, so we were both working from the kitchen table. I was on Teams meetings and he was asking me about maths or poetry.
“I was also constantly working late; finishing at 6.30pm or 7pm every night. After around three or four weeks I realised that something needed to change.”
Amanda found that not having a work space was not only impacting on her but also her family. It was a struggle to balance school work for her son and it made it difficult for her husband, who is an Emergency Care Assistant with EMAS, to relax when on a rest day or returning from a night shift.
Amanda said: “It’s only when you start working in that environment that you realise the impact on others not just yourself. I didn’t appreciate that until a few weeks in when my husband said, ‘please say you don’t have any more Teams calls today’.
“I’m now nestled in our small spare room but it’s a place I can close the door on at the end of the day.”
Working from home has also impacted on Amanda in other ways, as it has many enabling services colleagues.
She said: “I’ve realised that my drive to work was when I prepared for the day, and equally driving home was my time to unwind. Working from home, I don’t have that separation.
“I’ve also found it much harder in the second lockdown, as I’m sure everyone will have. When the weather was nice you could go in the garden and you didn’t feel like you were constantly in the house. Thankfully spring is here, and the summer evenings sat in the garden with a glass of wine aren’t far away.”
Another implication of home working is the loss of social interaction with colleagues.
Amanda said: “As a team we do miss each other. We communicate all the time over Microsoft Teams and make sure we see each other’s faces on screen at least once a week, but it is different. Those ‘tea-room’ conversations with colleagues outside you team, about your dog or a new DIY project, just do not happen anymore, and it can feel very isolating at times.”
However, the team have proved adaptable and had some great news during the pandemic. Apprentice Ben joined the team three weeks before we went into lockdown and has now got a substantive post, despite most of his apprenticeship experience being working at home and virtually.
Added Amanda: “Ben’s given us a massive amount of support with all the data we’ve had to deal with. We’ve been really fortunate to have him and it’s great that he’s now a permanent member of the team.”
Congratulations Ben and thank you to our resourcing colleagues and enabling services teams for all you do.