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Planning for the ‘unplannable’

Wednesday 30th March 2022

Planning for the ‘unplannable’

Emma Burkinshaw, Consultant at NECS Consultancy, provides her insight into working on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout programme at Wakefield, and reflects on the importance of remaining calm in an uncertain time. 

In December 2020 the UK was the first country to administer a COVID-19 vaccine out of trial. At the end of December, I was asked to support on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout project in Wakefield. Initially my contract was for three months, but has subsequently been extended to over a year. Over time, I became an integrated member of the team, building strong relationships with vaccine site leads and supporting sites with operational queries, strategic planning, and vaccine allocations.

NECS has been delighted to support Wakefield in administering over 800,000 COVID-19 vaccines during the programme so far. NECS has supported the sites by working collaboratively, adopting a flexible and adaptable approach, and being responsive to changing national guidelines, such as new cohorts or the recent second booster programme announcement. We have worked quickly to support operational and strategic planning, to ensure there is an equitable and continuous vaccination offer in Wakefield. The programme has been great for my development, it has provided me with lots of exposure to operational challenges and allowed me to reflect on how I work when surrounded with uncertainty.

When I first started my career in the NHS, I was making daily to do lists with all my tasks for the day. I soon learned that operational roles often aren’t quite that structured, and that unexpected tasks can pop-up throughout the day. From then on, I adjusted my working style to support working with uncertainty. However, once I started on the vaccine programme, I soon realised this would be the most ambiguous and constantly changing role I’d worked in so far.

There has undeniably been a lot of uncertainty on the project (and in general life!), such as new variants of the virus, changing guidance from official bodies, and regularly updated advice about who can receive the vaccine. Although I love the challenge that working on this programme has provided me, there are days where ambiguity has been more difficult to manage and working with uncertainty is a skill I’m continuously developing.

This blog has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on those elements of uncertainty within the programme and think about how I’ve adapted to working in an ambiguous role. Below are some tips that I’ve found helpful for remaining calm in a time of uncertainty:

  • Accepting the situation: As much as consultancy is about being a ‘critical friend’ and wanting to make a positive change, sometimes I find it helpful to acknowledge that some things are out of my control, and that’s ok.
  • Focusing on what I can control: I like to have some stability in my work and having regular daily meetings or weekly tasks helps me to maintain this. Also, having structure outside of work helps me to feel more control of my work. I try and swim or run before work and switch off in the evening by going for a walk.
  • Reflecting on what I’ve achieved: Whether this is big milestones on the project or personal achievements, I often find it useful to remind myself of the impact the project has had on our local population in Yorkshire, and how much I’m learning and developing.
  • Supporting each other: I find it helpful to talk about the project, and the wider COVID-19 pandemic, with colleagues or friends. My colleagues on the vaccine programme at NECS have been invaluable in providing support during this time.

Looking back over the programme, it has taught me to accept that I can’t always be in control of every detail, and to enjoy those morning catch ups with colleagues where we decide how to tackle an ‘unplannable’ day.

If you have any questions about this blog post, please contact emma.burkinshaw@nhs.net

Contact NECS Consultancy to understand how we have supported clients to think differently and develop new models of care.  Find out more here: NECS Consultancy