Hampshire’s emergency services praised for vital pandemic role

Firefighters and police officers have been recognised for the important part they played in supporting vulnerable patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS) and Hampshire Constabulary were on hand to pick up the Best Emergency Services Collaboration award for their work in intensive care units (ICUs) at the recent Skills for Health Our Health Heroes Awards.

In total, 27 firefighters assisted frontline medics at four of Hampshire’s hospitals by helping to care for some of the most vulnerable patients. While volunteers from Hampshire Constabulary stepped in to help at University Hospital Southampton. To alleviate pressure on NHS staff at the peak of COVID-19, hospital leaders trained up the multi-agency team in proning, which involves putting patients onto their front to relieve pressure on their vital organs and assist breathing.

Firefighter Matthew Smither, Crew Manager Sophie Exton-Woodford, Watch Manager Adam Bundle, Station Manager Alex Rhodes and Group Manager Craig Gregory accepted the award on behalf of the team, alongside PC Matthew James and Sgt Stu Bridle from Hampshire Constabulary and representatives from University Hospital Southampton.

In a further win for the county’s first responders, volunteers at Hampshire Search and Rescue (HANTSAR) were awarded the Most Inspired Health and Care Support by a UK Charity Award, for their efforts supporting COVID-19 testing and vaccination across the county.

The charity, one of the country’s county-based Lowland Rescue teams, which provide round the clock cover to assist the police and other agencies to search for vulnerable missing persons, was praised highly for stepping into the breach to help the NHS at a time of great need, alongside running full search and rescue services throughout the pandemic.

Vice Chair Trevor Vidler, HANTSAR, said, “I am delighted that the hard work and dedication of our team has achieved national recognition. At a time of great difficulty for us all, our wonderful army of volunteers stepped up to the plate to support vaccination efforts across the county. Not only that, they did so whilst juggling a busy schedule of call outs to search for vulnerable and at-risk missing people.”

HANTSAR first got involved in local efforts to help combat COVID-19 in April 2020. Volunteer teams supported Portsmouth City Council by delivering essential PPE to care homes and other healthcare agencies on a daily basis for 12 weeks within the city and surrounding areas. During Christmas 2020, with lorries snarled up at Portsmouth harbour, 63 HANTSAR volunteers gave up their time between Christmas and New Year to get drivers tested at Portsmouth International Port before they returned to the continent.

Also in December 2020, as the vaccination rollout gathered pace, 14 HANTSAR volunteers trained to work as vaccinators to ensure that when vaccination centres opened they, together with their team colleagues, were ready to step up.

Between January 2021 and January 2022, over 70 HANTSAR volunteers filled hundreds of shifts as professional guides and vaccinators across the county at the main mass-vaccination centres in Southampton, Portsmouth and Basingstoke. More recently, they have, with very little notice, supported the schools programme, adapting schedules to attend different schools across Hampshire each and every day.

In total the HANTSAR vaccinators have helped to deliver an estimated17,000 vaccinations, and the whole team has contributed over 9000 hours to the programme.