As it turns out, you learn quickly that HR and OD are critical to the preparation, planning and response to a global health emergency #HRtogether

Claire Vaughan is Executive Director of Workforce and OD for the Welsh Ambulance Service.

'When we come out of the other end of this and reflect on what we describe as ‘core’ services, I wonder if the crucial role my team has played will be recognised.'

It seems my statement, in the May 2020 edition of People Management Magazine, made an impression; given the flurry of grateful messages that followed.

Working for the Welsh Ambulance Service it goes without saying that protecting our frontline services and staff is our main priority. It was also evident to see why protecting our fleet, make ready teams, supply chain and ICT as ‘core services’ was important.  “But why not HR/OD?” I asked.

As it turns out, you learn quickly that HR and OD are critical to the preparation, planning and response to a global health emergency!  

COVID-19 required a swift response on a huge scale; rapidly adapting systems, ways of working, and growing our workforce to maintain a collective resilience in the face of the growing threat.  I stand in awe at the bravery and achievements of my NHS colleagues across the UK, and of the HR and OD teams who have worked tirelessly to support and keep them safe.

Facing our own challenges, close collaboration with planning colleagues enabled us to swiftly assess and identify what we needed to do to begin to mitigate the anticipated impact of the virus; starting with the need to quickly recruit more people to work across our core services.  A call to arms received an overwhelming response from the public, with over 1500 volunteering in just 24 hours.  We also received a tremendous response from our own workforce and volunteers; and redeployed 90 staff from corporate teams into call centres and our pandemic co-ordination cells. 

In just weeks, the team had recruited over 40 new emergency call takers, 400 volunteers and 100 student paramedics from Swansea University were trained to support the frontline. The Education Team delivered bespoke training for 60 military and 140 Fire Service personnel to help surge our frontline capacity.  Innovatively transforming training to a digital platform, ensured learners were safe, maintained appropriate social distancing requirements and increased throughput.

The message I emphasised for my team was ‘this isn’t peacetime so don’t strive for perfection, good is good enough’.  

Focussing efforts and resources on priorities, ceasing non-essential, non-COVID related work, virtually connecting across the whole team, making risk based decisions to accelerate processes and the pace of change all ensured our success. We reinforced the importance of trade union partnership, creating a specific cell for key TU partners. Engagement in this more agile way, whilst difficult initially, has provided a real blueprint for the future.  

And throughout this, we’ve been expanding resources to safeguard the mental and physical wellbeing of all our workforce. We scaled up psychological support services including our TRiM (Trauma Risk Incident Management) peer support system. We ensured staff working from home were remembered, as many faced new challenges, juggling homeworking, home schooling, caring responsibilities, and feelings of isolation and guilt for not being in the workplace. I know that I have felt all those things!  

Looking back, the first 8 weeks were the most demanding, exhausting and difficult I have ever experienced.  I always knew I was not alone. Having my team, and my executive colleagues, by my side gave me confidence to lead through this pandemic. My senior team deserves a special mention; without exception or complaint, they stepped up.   I wrote to them, and the wider Directorate team, to say a simple thank you for their courage and commitment.  

The HR Director networks across Wales and UK ambulance services has also been  invaluable, and thanks to WhatsApp, we have been able to share information, questions, a laugh, a joke, and comfort when needed.   We’ve kept connected.

We're not out of the woods, but it's time to take a breath and start planning for the new normal

Everyone has faced immense challenges during this time, and we are not out of the woods.  But we can now pause, take a breath, be kind to ourselves and others, take time to reflect and turn our attention to recovery and renewal as we plan for the ‘new normal.’  And if, or when, the predicted second wave comes, I know that my team will be ready  to protect, care for and support our workforce, so that they may do the same for our communities and help us get through these most challenging of times.  #HRTogether, always.

Stay safe and well.


Read more stories from the people profession

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.