Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Collaboration is at the heart of the COVID response

30-03-2021

By David Ellcock, Director of the North West Skills Development Network

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created disruption across all areas of life. Frontline organisations across the public sector are no different and have responded in truly remarkable ways to keep their communities afloat.

A coordinated response from across the sector continues to have a lasting impact on the lives of the most vulnerable, beginning with the successful and seamless flow of information between local NHS bodies, national teams and government. Those members of finance teams who were redeployed to support the pandemic response were instrumental to this flow of information between frontline organisations.

During the first wave of the pandemic, some finance professionals were reassigned to new roles in an effort to combat the virus. I played an important role in the information flow between organisations through my involvement in the North West COVID-19 Incident Co-ordination Centre (ICC).

In March 2020, I was working as Programme Director for Future-Focused Finance (FFF) and had recently trained as a voluntary reservist to provide support for the North West Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response team as part of preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit. When the pandemic hit, NHS finance staff had to quickly switch their focus to the coronavirus response, and I was asked to support the ICC team.

The ICC team's primary focus is information gathering in order to best respond to emerging COVID-related issues in a timely manner. We also coordinate the process of resolving the queries of local NHS bodies and other frontline organisations. The ICC team is sent situation reports throughout the day to ensure government-reported figures are up to date. These include figures on hospitalisations, critical care bed occupancy and capacity, A&E usage and completed COVID tests. In recent months, these reports have also included figures on hospital-based outbreaks and the vaccination programme.

This two-way stream of information has been vital to the COVID response throughout the pandemic. It also provides a way for the ICC to get guidance and information directly to NHS bodies to ensure the information is getting to the right places and things do not get overlooked.

There are five key roles in an ICC shift, each of which has a critical role in managing the system response to challenges across the North West region: the overall manager, single point of contact, task manager, incident manager and administrator. I have performed all the roles at one point or another, but have primarily been used as an incident manager, with responsibility for ensuring the day-to-day smooth running of the ICC.

At the onset of the pandemic, the ICC was initially responsible for fielding trust questions about PPE to support and facilitate the information flow between trusts. At a time when protective equipment was harder to come by, this was incredibly important. Because of the volume of queries, this eventually became unsustainable, and a military liaison team was brought in to facilitate issues with PPE shortages.

Working in the ICC is only one example of how finance professionals have been redeployed to battle the pandemic. The flow of information between health bodies and the government was a crucial part of the pandemic response. Collaboration between different sectors and organisations will continue to be key to making a lasting difference, whether in response to the pandemic or any other crisis that may come our way in the future.