Life on an NHS IMAS Assignment

NHS IMAS pool member, Jeremy Pease, describes his experience of supporting the Isolation Unit at Arrowe Park Hospital at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

It was February 2020 and I had just walked off the golf course when my phone rang. It’s always good to talk to Janet Walter, Director of System Capability and Operations, particularly when less than 24 hours later you are deployed as Tactical Commander for the Isolation Unit at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral. The unit was set up to accommodate passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Collective effort

It’s not your usual NHS IMAS assignment but it certainly sounded interesting and so it proved to be! The team had three full days to prepare the unit and whilst it had been used before to accommodate guests evacuated from Wuhan, this was the first time that it was a full isolation facility. Through the collective effort of many NHS and Local Authority staff, the unit was successfully set up and the 35 guests from the cruise ship arrived at 10:30 on a Sunday night, tired and hungry after a mammoth trip from Japan in the full glare of the national media.

From the very start the team agreed that we must develop a routine and rhythm for the day to be efficient and safe in our delivery to guests’ rooms and in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). My day started at around 7:15am, arriving on site at Arrowe Park and calling into the newsagent to collect morning papers for our guests. A quick catch up with the night concierge was followed by the Tactical Command Group (TCG) to discuss operational issues and agree those to be escalated to Strategic Command.

Importance of clear communications

Following TCG it was a quick walk to the Arrowe Park Communications team to agree issues to be included in the guest bulletin that day. We agreed to provide a guest bulletin every day to provide information and guidance directly, rather than guests having to speculate based on internet groups and news channels.

After visiting Communications, I usually called in the onsite Public Health England office to check on the bigger picture in relation to Covid-19 and any local issues we needed to be aware of. From there it was back to the Unit to hold the morning huddle for all staff to brief them on actions and issues for the upcoming day.

Twice each week we tested guests for Covid-19 using throat swabs and were supported in this by additional nursing staff from local hospitals. Four guests tested positive and were transferred to Infectious Disease Units across the North of England by North West Ambulance Service and Yorkshire Ambulance Service, through one of the most efficient and caring processes I have experienced.

My lasting memory of this assignment will be the positive can-do approach from all those involved and that if the NHS and other public bodies are asked to deliver, whatever it may be, we can, and we will and by heck we’ll do it right.”

Since this assignment, Jeremy undertook further work to produce a lessons learned report defining what is required to effectively ‘stand up’ an isolation unit at short notice based on his experiences at Arrowe Park Hospital.  

For more Life on Assignment case studies please go to the archive page.