Supporting the NHS in its hour of need

A united public sector helping the NHS deliver for the public through the COVID-19 pandemic

Executive Summary

The last fifteen months have been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When surges in cases threatened to overwhelm the NHS, other parts of the public sector stepped in to make sure life saving services could continue being provided. When the public needed the NHS more than ever, fire services, police services, local authorities, the armed forces, and many more helped create capacity to deliver for the public. Many of the lessons can shape delivery in non-crisis times.


London’s ambulance, fire, and police services unite

A police officer and LAS paramedic standing in front of an ambulance.

Faced with a tsunami of demand in each wave of the pandemic, the London Ambulance Service created a new relationship with the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Police Service. They formed a single team to drive ambulances and provide life saving services across the city.

In every crisis, there is also opportunity.

London Ambulance Service’s CEO Garrett Emmerson writes for the Public Leaders Report, sharing his key lessons on creating and sustaining these partnerships.


Whole organisation approach

“With the service at real risk of being overwhelmed, it was clear that we needed to implement a rapid ‘whole organisation’ response, starting with the leadership of the Trust.”


Long-planned initiatives

“We have massively accelerated many long-planned initiatives that have undoubtedly improved the care we provide for our patients.”

The London Ambulance Service tells more of their story on the NHS Providers website.

Garrett Emmerson standing in front of ambulances

CEO Garrett Emmerson

The London Ambulance Service called on university student paramedics, 300 firefighters, 75 police officers, volunteers, retired staff, and the help of private sector organisations and other furloughed staff.


Testing and vaccinations across the country

Two of the most defining cross-boundary operations of the whole year have been mass testing and vaccinating everybody in the country.

The CEOs of those leading these efforts have talked about the unique leadership challenges they faced – and how to carry these lessons into post-crisis and more stable times.

Leading in crisis

General Sir Gordon Messenger shared his lessons on leading in crisis with the NLC network earlier in the year: “There is a balance to be struck between creating new structures and adapting existing ones.”


National guidance directing Fire and Rescue Services

Phil Garrigan is the National Fire Chiefs Council’s COVID lead. He told the NLC, “we put national agreements and guidance in place to support this amazing work, helping the UK Fire and Rescue Service assist with setting up vaccination sites, assisting with patient care and administering the vaccines. It is incredible how much has been undertaken in such a short period of time.”

National Fire Chiefs Council logo

The Fire and Rescue Service have done over 550,000 extra activities as part of supporting the country’s pandemic response. 

Over 363,000 vaccinations delivered.

Over 64,000 COVID tests supported.

Almost 230,000 deliveries of essential items.


Armed Forces mentoring for NHS leaders

Defence Academy of the United Kingdom logo

Since May 2020, members of the armed forces – who have years of training and frontline experience of dealing with high-pressure situations – have been mentoring NHS leaders on effective crisis management. 130 mentoring relationships were founded which have benefited both partners, most continuing today.

The Defence Academy shares more details about the partnership in this article for the Public Leaders Report.

Mentoring through crisis

Kathy Farndon is a Non-Executive Director for University Hospitals Derby & Burton NHS Foundation Trust. She was mentored by Brigadier Ian Mortimer of the British Army.


A different perspective

Kathy says, “There is much benefit to be gained from being able to view challenges and difficult situations through a different lens”

“Brigadier Mortimer was able to provide relevant examples from his military experience to show how he had used his leadership skills in both combat and crisis situations, as well as other different approaches that military work involves, in order to give me a different perspective with which to view the situations I was dealing with and find solutions.”


Two way benefits

Ian says, “This reflective learning allowed me to distil my own experiences into accessible and pertinent examples for Kathy. But I also learned as much from Kathy and her wealth of experience in the health sector and her subject matter expertise. Her insights allowed me to understand better some of the challenges that Defence faces now and in the future.”

To support Defence staff as they mentored NHS colleagues, the Defence Academy created a series of podcasts. This is the first in the series, shared publicly as part of the Public Leaders Report.

(Podcast also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts.)


Read more of the Public Leaders Report 2021