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Life on Assignment with Peter Kennedy, Mark Gough and Diane Scott

Back in January 2020 when COVID-19 was given Critical Incident status for the NHS and a National Incident Coordination Centre (ICC(N)) was required to provide a single point of contact from which to coordinate the NHS response nationally, NHS IMAS was tasked with finding the right people for the job.

Photo of Peter Kennedy, Mark Gough and Diane Scott

NHS IMAS Pool Members Peter Kennedy, Mark Gough, and Diane Scott have undertaken NHS IMAS assignments as Incident Directors at the ICC(N) in Skipton House. Nearly a year and a half later, I’m not sure any of them would have expected to be in the positions still.

It’s been a multi-faceted and ever changing role, and has required them to balance governmental ask with NHS priority and capability, alongside the day to day operational management of a busy and ever changing environment and managing staff expectations and wellbeing.

Peter - ‘At the beginning we were entering the unknown. We were setting up something very responsive to changing the needs of the service; ensuring the room was fully operational in a rapidly changing environment, standing up new processes and Standard Operating Procedures. It was all very fast-paced as we became an essential coordination function in a turbulent time. The work has developed and matured into a fairly robust and well understood coordination function, spanning the seven regions and providing a key focal point for all the regions to feed into one place.’

Generally, incidents have a steep rise of activity, a short plateau, and enter the recovery phase quickly. The longevity of COVID-19 has been so very different in that.

Diane - ‘The protracted event and intensity of the unfolding Pandemic was very different to anything I had experienced in my 33 years’ service in the NHS. I had to step outside of my own comfort zone, working challenging shifts whilst dealing with the competing priorities and demands from the many service areas the ICC(N) was coordinating.’

This consistency of leadership in an environment that is constantly changing has been a cornerstone in the success of creating a functional ICC(N) so quickly.

Mark – ‘Providing stable and calm leadership has been key to supporting and developing all of the staff who have volunteered – the ICC(N) Incident Managers have really stepped up to that leadership role. We have all learned new skills to support and manage an effective NHS response.’

The longevity of this Incident has led to the creation, testing, and actioning of this ICC(N) model as one channel of communication in and out, which has been welcomed by the regions, providers, and national team.

Peter – ‘There is no way we could have done this without the commitment and tenacity of the staff. We have been completely dependent on the volunteer Reservists in particular! Once there was a foundation in place of secondees providing a consistency within the room, this was complimented by skills brought in with the Reservist model.’

‘This would not have been possible without the responsiveness and commitment of Reservists and secondees. Under pressure, they really stood up to the challenge; people stepping in last minute, traveling, staying in hotels, working in an office environment while everyone else is homeworking – though we have strict measures to keep them safe. The ICC(N) has been operating 12-15hrs a day, 365 days a year. Christmas, Easter, Bank holidays. There has been no let-up of operation whatsoever. The continued service and dedication of our team has filled me with pride’

After unexpectedly long assignments for NHS IMAS, can you offer any advice to prospective or current NHS IMAS pool members?

Diane – ‘Undertaking an NHS IMAS assignment is a rewarding and great way of helping NHS organisations in an interim capacity, whilst embracing new personal challenges. Ensure there is flexibility in the agreed deliverables to allow for the unknowns that may arise during the assignment.‘

Mark Don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water and offer your services. The support and team ethos that everyone gets working together is hugely rewarding, and you really are making a difference. You will always be supported and developed.’