Academy team members all offered to be redeployed at the end of March to help with the Covid-19 response when we were planning for a huge surge that threatened to overwhelm our health services. Here’s what some of the team were involved in:

Dr Mark Hamilton, Executive Clinical Director for the Surrey Heartlands Academy  
Mark became a resident on call intensive care consultant again for the first time in nearly 20 years to support the need to provide vastly increased critical care capacity as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. He took on the challenge of bringing together ethical frameworks to tackle potentially impossible decisions that clinicians had to face. He also joined the national teams looking at the rapid learning that was happening around the country to get guidelines and knowledge out to those that needed it. It was great to be able to share that learning with our Surrey ICU colleagues and to have the opportunity to talk to them about what it meant to face the current situation. Nationally the need to increase the critical care capacity has been acknowledged and the first steps taken, and he welcomes that for all our citizens.

He has taken on a deputy chair role on the new Surrey Heartlands ethics committee and has helped (along with some amazing colleagues) to develop an ethical decision-making framework, which has supported our colleagues looking at both cancer and PPE decisions. The committee continues to develop and support the undoubtedly difficult decisions we have to make as a system going forwards.

“For the first time in my life I admit to feeling a little scared to go to work, not knowing what was coming or how we would cope with it. I discovered more about myself and my colleagues than I thought was possible, and was overwhelmed to see the enthusiasm, curiosity and energy that all my colleagues have brought to this unique challenge,” he said.

“ A genuine highlight was catching up with all my Academy colleagues last week, to see the extraordinary amount they have accomplished over the last eight weeks working with new colleagues in different ways, but all enshrining in a real growth mindset.

Sarah Parker, Director of Transformation and the Academy
Sarah took on the Covid ICS Lead for Workforce, with a key focus on maximising staff, training and workforce welfare as we prepared for a potential overwhelming surge in people needing hospital care. She co-ordinated a daily fast learning and implementation action group with all of our partners People/Human Resource Directors and HR leads. They escalated and jointly resolved issues of how to find, support and protect our staff so that they could protect and treat our public. Key areas included maximising opportunities through national NHS campaigns to bring back staff, redeploying health students and using volunteers. Sarah also worked with army colleagues and local leaders, establishing the initial workforce requirements and recruitment strategy for the NHS Seacole Centre at Headley Court, which subsequently opened on 18th May.

“It certainly kept me busy and, as we headed towards a potential super-surge the incredible focus and creativity of colleagues and the pace of what we were achieving was both humbling and inspiring.” said Sarah. “As well as maximising our staff numbers and supporting their training, I was involved in resolving a range of immediate practical welfare needs for staff at the start of the pandemic and then scaling up our support for everyone’s emotional wellbeing. Taking a breath now and reflecting on ways to continue to support our workforce in the longer term remains critical to my reflections for our Academy work.”

Naomi Garnett, Academy Programme Manager
Naomi was seconded to the Digital Team to support programme work in a number of key areas: remote working for Primary Care and CCG staff, deployment of Microsoft Teams including a support offer for staff, and digital work in care homes. Her role included scoping and writing business papers to support projects to implementation, finding resource to support and project reporting. It was a varied and fast-paced role – including working with the University of Surrey, SCW commissioning support unit and external agencies to support the roll out of Microsoft Teams; working with Princess Alice Hospice and a multi-disciplinary team to deliver support training to care home staff – and then spending a Friday afternoon delivering Facebook portals to care homes – a trans-Surrey expedition on very quiet roads!

“It was great to see how quickly we can blitz the red tape and deliver when we really need to, and enjoyable to work with new people in new areas and to build relationships quickly,” said Naomi. “Also to see the impact a technology platform can have on the culture and ways of working of an organisation.”

Luke Burton, Knowledge Programme Manager
Luke was also seconded to the Digital Team where his work included leading the development of the Surrey Virtual Wellbeing Hub , a website to support citizen’s emotional health and wellbeing; leading a system-wide digital design process which is now being tested with the MyCOPD app – supporting those with respiratory conditions; and working with colleagues from Accenture to review the digital programmes currently in the system.

Said Luke. “The purpose of reviewing current digital programmes was to enable us to design a better way of linking these up and developing some principles to ensure any digital programmes compliment and link into the system priorities.

James Palmer, Senior Project Manager, Population Health Management
James was seconded to the Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response team on his first day in the NHS, having joined the Academy in March! He has been supporting efforts to increase the size of the Incident Co-ordination Centre, including the development of standard operating procedures, which will allow us to work remotely and share information more effectively across Surrey Heartlands.

He commented: “My key learning has been that a challenge of this scale needs the whole health and social care enterprise to work together, but this will not be instinctive in a crisis until it becomes part of our routine DNA. The experience has highlighted many opportunities to improve our pandemic response as well as address more familiar challenges, especially given the creation of a single CCG, our inclusion in the Local Health and Care Record programme, the strong links we enjoy with the County Council and the dedication of our workforce. The demands of Covid-19 and the lessons identified during the response should act as a spur to manage population health more proactively.”

Dr Aalia Khan, GP in Leatherhead and Clinical Ambassador for the Academy
Aalia was asked to redeploy back into primary care during the COVID-19 pandemic. In GP practices all across Surrey Heartlands and in fact nationally, the way of working has altered beyond recognition.

She explains: “Overnight, our doors were closed to face-to-face contact with patients to avoid the spread of infection. I have had to almost learn to take a good history again, focusing on the patient’s story much more, and not being able to rely on non-verbal communication cues or physical examination findings in all cases.

“Our practice meetings are held virtually via Microsoft teams now, and I have also been supporting our PCN which was directed to set up a ‘hot hub’ to see patients with suspected or proven COVID-19, in a very short time frame. I was tasked with creating a duty rota, asking local GPs to volunteer to work at the hub. I arranged a virtual meeting to educate GPs about the hub, talk through its standard operating procedure and reassure doctors that personal protective equipment would be provided. The hub opened in early April and is expected to continue operating for the time being. It is staffed by local GPs and we consult an average of 20 patients a day, referred in by their local GPs who want them to be assessed further.

“We can’t see that we will return to the ‘old’ way of working anytime soon. It has been a huge challenge to get to grips with new technology but I have found it invaluable in caring for patients and reassuring them that general practice is still open for business. At the same time I have had to deal with patients dying of COVID-19, supporting their families through the bereavement process, and managing my own anxieties about the risks posed to me in my work. However the importance of a supportive team has never rung truer for me and I look forward each day to working with my great colleagues.”

Heather Bokota, Lead for Commercial Development and Quality Improvement
Heather was the third member of the Academy team seconded to the Digital workstream while also continuing to support out Surrey Improvers Network. Her work with the Digital team focused on delivering projects that formed part of a cohesive offer to care homes across Surrey. These included enabling safer communication through the roll out of NHS mail, auditing care home digital capabilities and delivering the NHSX Facebook pilot in Surrey to help reduce social isolation when we were gifted with 50 Portals to use in care homes and wards.  Read more on this project elsewhere in this newsletter.

Said Heather: “It’s been a privilege to work with local colleagues in residential homes and NHS providers to get these portals out to the residents and patients who can benefit from this. Another highlight has also been the chance to meet new Heartlands colleagues, as we were thrown together for redeployment.”

Jade Winnett, Academy System Leadership Programme Manager
Jade was redeployed to the Workforce Covid-19 cell with Sarah where she was part of the initial team involved in planning the workforce element of the NHS Seacole Centre at Headley Court. She was also involved more broadly for Workforce including sourcing staff temporary accommodation space and reporting mechanisms for redeployment, returners and volunteers.

Said Jade: “As part of the Headley Court team, it was amazing to witness true co-working with members from every organisation and the military just getting on with what needed to be done instantly, with one focus and no egos. I really hope this ‘get on with it’ culture, continues.”

Negin Sarafraz-Shekary, Senior Public Health Lead

Negin led the completion of a rapid literature review to identify the potential psychological impacts of Covid-19, looking at previous pandemics, on the workforce and the general population. The findings of this research were used in development of a range of psychological guidance and support created through the work of Surrey Heartlands Mental Health Reference Group.