On the second anniversary of the nationwide lockdown, our Emergency Operations Centre Service Delivery Manager has been reflecting on the last two years - some of the hardest but most rewarding in his career.
Gary Lockley, 35, from Leicestershire was a senior manager within our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) back in early 2020, supporting the teams of call handlers, clinicians and dispatchers based at our Nottingham headquarters.
Still recovering from a busy winter, nothing could have prepared our control room teams for the global pandemic which would change the way colleagues worked for good.
Gary said: "The last two years have really been a challenge in every way and it has been relentless.
"At the start of the pandemic, we had to evolve with the constantly changing COVID guidelines and changes to the working environment, while still providing a full 24-hour response to patients."
Although call volume significantly dropped through the first waves of the pandemic, staff had to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice.
He said: "The way in which we responded to calls changed dramatically with the introduction of the additional COVID questions.
"Staff were moved across both the Nottingham and Lincolnshire sites to help with social distancing, face to face contact became limited, mask wearing was implemented alongside regular testing and personal sacrifices were made by every single team member.
"It was a long slog and fatigue set in, but I’ve really seen the best in people when it’s been needed. That was never more evident in summer 2021 when the number of calls not only shot through the roof, but repeatedly broke records. Every day we saw call volumes equal to that of a New Year’s Eve.
"Coupling this with changes to national COVID guidelines and confusion around what was happening, the anxiety amongst our control room staff was high, but they continued to amaze me with their willingness to step up and prioritise helping our patients in need."
Alongside work pressures, Gary faced a difficult time outside of work too.
His partner is a paramedic who was responding to patients on the frontline in Leicester and so together, they made the sacrifice to not see their families in order to protect them.
He said: "It isn’t something we will ever forget; the pandemic has shaped everyone’s lives in different ways and there are lasting effects to that even now."
But despite the challenges faced, Gary says it has been and is a pleasure to work with his committed and dedicated teams within EOC.
"To be nationally recognised for having some of the best call pickup rates in the country, introducing new systems to carry out video triage, facilitating remote working and adapting to constant changes within a pandemic has been incredible.
"Prior to COVID, these were all part of a two-year vision, and yet we managed to deliver it within just 19 days, when the first call from home was taken. The thing that drives each and every one of us is knowing that we come to work each day and make a difference to patient’s lives.
"I started my journey at EMAS as a 999 call handler and now as Service Delivery Manager, being able to lead the teams within our control room is a privilege.
"We help deliver babies into the world and support people leaving it with dignity. We become part of that patient’s life and while it can be a hard job, it certainly is a rewarding one."