A message from our Chief Operating Officer, Janice Greenhill

After our Staff Awards Week last week, I find myself reflecting back again over the last year – definitely not one any one of us will ever forget! So many of the stories behind the over 180 nominations, both of nominees and runners up and winners, are linked to the incredibly challenging situations we were thrown into as an organisation, the NHS system, a country and the world.

I remember in late February, March and April our call volumes increased by in excess of 100% as concerned residents called 111 for support and management both of their health concerns and general health promotion information to try and make sense of what was happening. Our contact centre staff absolutely rose to the occasion with a sense of camaraderie and professionalism, many colleagues working additional shifts as we tried to offer support to our service users. Colleagues in other services came to help, rolling up their sleeves to offer continued support to our communities in new ways and our support and management colleagues quickly developed and embedded new processes and ways of working. General Practice closed to face-to-face consultations, moving rapidly to telephone and video consultations. HUC Out of Hours followed suit although we continued with urgent home visits, clinicians triaging all patients carefully to ensure that there was no risk of cross infection, base visits ceased with the majority of service users having their concerns managed by telephone consultation and prescriptions being sent directly to pharmacies.

We came together as a large NHS family to support the system in a way that had not been seen previously, GP colleagues from Extended Access Services were re-purposed to support the huge call volumes in HUC’s clinical triage and clinical assessment queues requiring clinical intervention. HUC stepped in to support the infrastructure for COVID-19 testing, colleagues from Hertfordshire Community Trust being seconded to help with this project. New social distancing, infection control and shielding guidelines came into effect. To keep our colleagues safe we removed a number of work stations across the contact centres, installed Perspex safety screens in cars and across desks and ensured the constant provision of alcohol gel and antiseptic wipes, encouraging all colleagues to practice enhanced hand washing and regular cleansing of their cars and work stations. We all became very adept at video conferencing as the whole country moved away from face-to-face meetings and moved into the world of virtual encounters.

This last winter has been the most challenging on record for the NHS. HUC is a key partner locally, regionally and nationally and we have built strong relationships these last 12 months and in a pre-COVID world. As an organisation and a big HUC team we are stronger than ever. The last week was a rare chance to step back from the fast-paced environment we work in and celebrate the way we’ve come together, the individual and team contributions, the commitment of our colleagues, their visible and invisible heroism.

Our world in HUC has changed beyond recognition and I am proud of what we have achieved together and individually. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this experience, and to those of you who have nominated and celebrated their colleagues. Let us continue to capture these stories even after Staff Awards week and celebrate our HUC heroes.