POWER IN PARTNERSHIP: How LAL and the NHS came together during COVID to facilitate the largest vaccination programme in modern British history

The year 2023 marks the third year of living with the life-altering ramifications caused by the spreading of the Coronavirus. It now appears like some semblance of normalcy has been restored, with crowded venues returning to full capacity, masked faces becoming less common, and the news cycle resuming some variation. With that said, it’s easy to cast our minds back to two and a half years ago, when the entire world seemed to come to a screeching halt.

The notoriously unsettling images of congested hospital wards and suffering patients clinging to life on respiratory machines, as well as previously bustling urban city streets that suddenly appeared like ghost towns, will linger in the minds of those who lived through it for generations.

It has certainly been a long road to get here, and we would not be enjoying this resplendent return to freedom without the hard work and sacrifices of a large number of people. We are delighted to have played some part in this through a local collaboration between the NHS and Nelson and Colne College Group’s Lancashire Adult Learning (LAL), which provided the logistical backdrop and workforce to enable Lancashire’s immunisation programme to be implemented.

The nature of the partnership:
On the 2nd of December, 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccination, the Pfizer- BioNTech, was approved for use in the UK. With that, the race to roll the vaccination out to the public was on, which inevitably posed great logistical challenges, the like of which no one had ever experienced before.

Ruth Keeler, Strategic Lead for health and care careers and engagement in the NHS, along with her team in the NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria, were in charge of the distribution of the vaccine across Lancashire. LAL had worked with Ruth and her team in various capacities before, and she was aware of the wealth of talent and the good relationships that already existed there, which meant that they were her first port of call when it came to needing a training partner. The partnership was a quick fire coming together made necessary by the need to fill in the huge recruitment gaps the NHS was facing when staffing vaccinator roles. It took the accelerated collaborative efforts of dedicated teams on both sides to pull through and meet an incredibly tight deadline, on such a large-scale project.

The vaccination rollout:
LAL assisted the health and care sector in recruiting to these brand-new roles by training and providing 141 learners to be vaccinators. This was an even bigger success, as many of the students trained by LAL were out of work at that time, or were at home on subsidised furlough wage packages. This initiative not only managed to find them occupation in a particularly trying time but also provided the NHS with the personnel required for one of the largest vaccine rollouts in modern history. Many of the learners stated that this programme was there ‘lifeline’ to get through Christmas; not just financially, but socially and mentally too.

Courses needed to be implemented to train up the staff, and with this being a novel challenge – the mass vaccination programme had to be built from scratch. The team at LAL rose to the occasion, producing outstanding training materials with a very quick turnaround.

Time was not on their side however and, according to members of both teams, twists, turns and setbacks were around every corner due to the growing severity of the pandemic. For instance, the staff training course, originally set out to be a two-week programme, had to be compressed and accelerated into a five-day crash course.

“Information was changing daily, and we often had to meet with members of NHS three or four times a day in order to adapt our approach” noted Thomas Gee, Head of Curriculum for Employability, Volunteering and Skills with LAL.

In the end however, through the tenacity and hard work of staff at both LAL and health and care partners, the vaccination programme was a huge success. Ruth Keeler said; “we simply couldn’t have delivered the vaccines to people of this community without this partnership”.

Above and beyond – the further implications of the partnership:
Of the 141 vaccinators who acquired temporary positions in the NHS through LAL’s recruitment drive, 121 managed to go on and secure full-time roles. One of those learners was 42-year-old Mohammad Wez Azam from Nelson. Mohamad was hired as an NHS vaccinator in late 2020. Since then he has gone on to acquire a number of further roles within the NHS in the world of admin, housekeeping and further vaccinations. In addition to this, Mohamad’s newfound love of learning led him to take on more adult courses, leading him to a position as an on-call firefighter, with further roles within the fire service on the horizon.

The initial vaccinator role was particularly personal for Mohamad however, as he lost a close family member to COVID-19 earlier in the year. Not only that but Mohamad had lost his job during the pandemic, and was prompted to inquire about the LAL vaccination course through the Job Centre. Since signing up he has never looked back, commenting; “many doors have opened for me since taking part in the mass vaccination programme through LAL.

“The support I received was second to none and words cannot describe what it meant to me.”

LAL has since become a vital element of the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS pipeline as a result of this merger, providing high quality training and a service that allows competent individuals to be fast-tracked into great roles within the NHS. LAL provide functional skills, deliver ESOL, provide conflict management and conduct a ‘Step Into’ programme – a pre-employment initiative aimed at giving students the training they need to prepare them for a career within the NHS.

Mohamad is one of many who hugely benefitted from the training and support they received with LAL and being able to take that all important first step on the career ladder within the NHS.
‘Working in partnership with organisations to design training & education to meet the economic and community needs of Lancashire is at the heart of what we do.” States Nicola Hall – Director Curriculum Innovation & Partnerships.

“It was a privilege to work with Ruth and her team to co design and deliver the pre-employment training for staff employed within the COVID vaccination centres”

We are very proud of our ties with local employers and businesses here at Nelson and Colne College Group. This collaboration began under unfavourable conditions with the dire backdrop of the pandemic, but eventually resulted in incredible life changes, both personally and financially, for many people. Not to mention the economic boost within the local community too. We are also thrilled about our modest role in the vaccination rollout across Lancashire, and the restoration of some semblance of normalcy across the county.

If you are interested in any of Lancashire Adult Learning’s programmes, or are looking to secure work after a spell of unemployment and want to see how we could help you then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Visit: https://www.lal.ac.uk/
Phone: 0333 003 1717
Email: enquiries.lal@nelsongroup.ac.uk

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