On the Frontlines: NHS braves the pandemic

The last few months have been full of trials for the UK, caused by the global health crisis and subsequent medical equipment shortages. But in the face of adversity, we saw the emergence of the real heroes in our society - the courageous medical staff and frontline workers who put their lives on the line so others could live to see another day.

Sara Ali Khalil is one of many doctors making the trip to work across London while most of the city stays home. The haematology specialist, who is originally from Bahrain, has worked for the National Health Service (NHS) for more than 10 years and now works at Barts, one of the largest NHS Trusts, which runs a number of major hospitals in London.

She shines a light on the life on the frontlines: “We are learning every day,” she says. “Nobody has seen a crisis of these proportions, so it’s all hands on deck, everyone joining forces and learning together to save lives and put patients at ease as much as we can.”


Nightingale Field Hospitals set up by the NHS across England


beds put at the NHS’ disposal in an unprecedented deal with the independent medical sector


pallets of life-saving equipment handled by DHL Supply Chain for regional emergency hospitals

Response to the crisis

As the largest global health emergency in living memory, the NHS has joined forces with the military, the independent medical sector and other bodies to respond to the high number of COVID-19 cases and is enacting a variety of measures to curb the pandemic.

First of all, the NHS has started an initiative entitled “Stand up. Step forward. Save lives” to recruit additional medical staff to provide essential patient care. The heartwarming response by both current and retired medical workers has been utterly overwhelming and shows true compassion in these trying times.

Sara was one of these people, determined to stand up, step forward and save lives.

“I was in the middle of my PhD research when the pandemic lockdown was announced in the UK, and like many of my colleagues, I volunteered to be re-deployed to the NHS. I currently work on one of several wards that have been turned into COVID-19 wards where we have patients with varying infection severity, from those needing low-flow oxygen supplementation to those requiring high-flow oxygen therapy and non-invasive ventilation. There is a feeling of great camaraderie, and it’s really inspiring to work in these new COVID-19 teams which have brought together doctors and nurses from all sorts of specialties,” she says.

In an effort to increase the capacity of available beds, the NHS has struck an unprecedented deal with the independent medical sector, providing an 8,000 additional beds. But that’s not all.

Nightingale project

Another monumental measure deals with setting up emergency hospitals, known as Nightingale Field Hospitals, around the country. Currently, there are seven field hospitals set up by the NHS across England in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other regional centers.

DHL Supply Chain set up a supply chain and helped the NHS and military to tailor the ExCel London conference center into a hospital in record time. This planned endeavor was the result of highly skilled expertise and precision orchestration. Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, says, “It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight.”

Support for the frontline workers

To ensure the success of the U.K. Nightingale Emergency Field Hospital project, DHL is tirelessly working alongside the NHS to deliver crucial support services and manage supply chains that help in building and running hospital sites and taking care of patients.

DHL Supply Chain has set up an operation in Skelmersdale, Lancashire where in the next 10 to 12 weeks it is planned to receive, store, pick and deliver around 1,000 key lines of life-saving medical equipment and consumables, handling more than 20,000 pallets. This includes onsite assembly of pre-assembled key lines of capital equipment (personal monitoring systems, ventilators, etc.) to be delivered to the hospitals.

To support these activities, a second operation has now been set up in Liverpool.

What’s more, working with a consortium of U.K. aerospace and automotive suppliers, DHL Supply Chain is providing end-to-end supply chain support, including a transport control tower, pre-kitting, inbound transport to and outbound from manufacturing sites, and facilitating the manufacture of 30,000 ventilators. For this, two parallel operations have been set up to accommodate different manufacturing requirements. Workstreams at both operations went live on 6 April from Stirling Park and Canton Lane, involving over 200 colleagues around the clock, through to the end of June.

Drive to support

Meanwhile, DHL’s Patient Transport team is providing non-emergency ambulance services to patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Patients who are being cared for in the community are collected and taken for renal dialysis three times a week. At peak, the team transported 1,000 patients a day.

To prevent shortages, DHL’s NHS Procurement teams have been hard at work supporting the sourcing of COVID-19 equipment and consumables for the NHS Trust ICU’s and the field hospitals, including £0.4bn worth of ventilators, patient monitoring systems, vascular ultrasound and mobile X-ray units, as well as laryngoscopes and CT scanners.

“This is a time when businesses need to get behind our National Health Service more than ever. Through the expertise and commitment of our teams and their drive to support frontline NHS workers and patients, we’ve helped get a new hospital open in a matter of days, alleviate pressure on the ambulance service and access much needed equipment,” emphasizes David Pierpoint, Managing Director UK, Life Sciences and Healthcare at DHL Supply Chain.

Recognizing the heroes

In our everyday lives, we’ve seen true heroism on the frontlines of the pandemic - the courageous NHS medical workers and volunteers, as well as those who provide vital support for them. They deserve as much of our love and support as they provide us - putting their lives on the line and braving the pandemic so we can see another day.

Good deeds don’t go unnoticed

“The reaction from the public has been wonderful,” Sara smiles. “My heart is warmed by messages I read at London underground stations, by free coffee and fresh meals delivered to us at work – and by all I see on media about people clapping for us. And, of course, wonderful examples of support such as Captain Tom, who at age 99 walked up and down his garden 100 times and raised £30 million for the NHS. Once this crisis is over, we need to take a critical look at what lessons we can learn from this, and I hope that post-COVID-19, we will receive the same support from authorities, as our NHS is a treasure which deserves the highest levels of support.”  — Krisjanis Polans

Published: May 2020

Images: Sara Ali Khalil , iStock