All our teams are currently working extremely hard as we, along with the rest of the NHS, tackle Covid-19. That’s why we wanted to give our colleagues the spotlight, as part of our weekly In Conversation With interviews, to share what they’re doing and the impact on them.
This week we spoke to Keith Donnelly, our Head of Emergency Preparedness.
Lives: In Waltham Forest.
And: Keith discovered his love of emergency planning when working in a hotel!
How has dealing with Covid-19 been for your team so far?
It comes in waves, it has been really interesting, it’s also been frustrating and exhausting. The situation has been constantly evolving, at the start we were sticking to business as usual as much as possible, making small changes which could make a big difference.
As things have developed more drastic change has been needed. We’re well prepared and have our plans in place. We’re also working closely with our partners to coordinate our response.
We know our staff are resilient and professional, and what has been really amazing from the start has been the support, from the top to the bottom of our Trust.
Was working in emergency planning what you always wanted to do?
I wanted to be many things when I was younger – a chef, an accountant, then a forensic scientist, thanks to watching a lot of CSI. So I did my first degree in biochemistry, which I found dull and boring.
After university I started working in hotels, in various reception and conference and banqueting roles. It was as I worked my way up that I became involved in managing incidents, which I found I really enjoyed.
I managed things like power and water failures, fire evacuations and floods. When I was working at The Dorchester our entire office flooded – on April Fools’ Day! We had to work in the hotel for two weeks, which was quite nice.
One of the strangest things I dealt with was when a wedding guest collapsed – the bride gave them CPR and they were fine!
I enjoyed that part of my role so much that I went back to university to do an MSc in crisis and disaster management.
Tell us a bit more about your career
I started in the NHS in 2015 as the fire and health and safety officer for the South East Commissioning Support Unit. I covered CCGs across London, Kent and Medway so it involved a lot of traveling.
When it became the NEL CSU I became one of the resilience leads – so I’d support teams with their business continuity as well as director on call training
I ended up at our Trust two years ago after a chance meeting with my predecessor, Stephen Arundell, through the Emergency Planning Society. There was a vacancy for an emergency planning officer so I joined. I became Head of Emergency Preparedness in January 2019.
What does your role involve?
We’re there to support our teams with their business continuity plans, carry out risk assessments, and of course deal with things like pandemics. We’re also responsible for our Major Incident Plan, heatwave and cold weather plans, staff training and emergency planning exercises, like White Swan which we carried out last year.
We also work closely with partners like council and the police.
What do you like getting up to outside work?
I love walking – I can’t run but I can walk for miles and often spend time at the weekends walking around central London. I also like going to Epping Forest. I’m planning on doing my 5th Shine Marathon, a 26.2 mile walking marathon for Cancer Research UK.
I’ve done it with a friend before, however, I’m quite competitive so I like to do it on my own so I can speed off.
I was also recently involved in mentoring a group of students, as part of my membership with the Institute of Directors (which I was invited to join when I was Chair of the London Branch of the Emergency Planning Society). It was a charity project where they had £10 and ten days to raise as much money as they could for charity. I had a good group, they were really enthusiastic and across all teams we raised £5,000 for Centrepoint.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The people. I always think times of high pressure bring out the best in people. And I’m here to help people through it.