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BLOG 02.03.2023

Insight into a different world: my reflections as an NHS leader on being an Honorary Colonel

Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu, Director of Commissioning for NHS England – North West and Honorary Colonel for 208 Liverpool/206 North West Multi Role Medical Regiment

I am honoured and delighted to have been appointed Honorary Colonel for 208 Liverpool/206 North West Multi Role Medical Regiment.

You may not be aware of what an Honorary Colonel does so I thought it might be useful to explain and also to take a look at how I believe connections with the military can benefit us in the NHS.

Honorary Colonels are chosen for what we can bring to the role including our professional experience and achievements, and for having a connection either with the unit or the region where it is based. We are asked to take an interest in the unit we represent, and act as an ambassador both for the military to civilian communities and vice versa.

“My” regiment is part of the British Army Reserve Forces (what used to be called the Territorial Army). The Army Reserve provides opportunities for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to become part-time soldiers while maintaining their civilian careers.

So far, I have attended a Leadership Day in York, HOSPEX also in York – this is a UK Defence Medical Service simulation exercise to validate the training of personnel before they are deployed – and the Remembrance Day Service in Liverpool. I have also met a number of serving military and NHS professionals at wonderful esprit de corps events.

It is giving me real insight into a very different world which, however, shares many of the values of the NHS. I am learning a great deal and enjoying it very much.

Going back a little, my own first real contact with armed forces in the North West was in 2020 when, as lead for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine deployment programme for the north west, I was immensely grateful for the support they were able to offer us.

Whether it was an issue of facilities, logistics, or delivery – such as vaccinating housebound people in some of our most deprived areas – military personnel working with health and care professionals thoroughly and rapidly investigated the problem, came up with a solution, and put it into action.

At a time when speed and efficiency were of the essence, I think it is fair to say that, across the NHS, we were excited by what our military colleagues achieved and deeply grateful to them. And it is my impression that they also gained from the contact. It was described as a brilliant symbiotic exchange.

My recent experiences confirm my reflections then that the military and the health service have much in common – both embed altruistic principles and espouse the common good. Many reservists who work across both emphasise the similarities and also speak of significantly strengthening key skills while working alongside their army colleagues which they then bring back to the day job.

The examples cited most often to me are the ability to deliver crystal-clear communications under pressure, to lead effectively and to develop the team at pace, all of which greatly benefit their work for the NHS. At its heart, leadership is about service. This is as true in the armed forces as it is in the NHS.

One of the advantages of service with the Army Reserve for NHS staff is the opportunity to travel overseas, supporting local communities and international peacekeeping forces.

For instance, consultant anaesthetist Jason Cupitt, who works at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the regiment I represent, has recently completed a tour in Mali, west Africa, as part of Operation Newcombe. This is the British army operation which trains and assists the Malian armed forces, providing support to the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

NHS reservists in the team focus not just on the health and wellbeing of British troops, important though that is, but also assist with the care of other peacekeeping personnel and local civilians. They carry out medical assessments, treat minor injuries and illnesses, and provide emergency medical care to those in need.



Photo taken by Lt Col Cupitt, shows a simulation exercise undertaken with German peacekeeping forces in Mali.



If you are interested in joining the Army Reserve as a medical professional, the British Army Jobs website has details of what may be available for you.

NEWS 08.12.22

On the second anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccine given outside of a trial in England, Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu, regional COVID-19 vaccination programme lead, NHS England – North West thanks NHS staff, volunteers and organisations across the North West for all their amazing work on the vaccination programme.

BLOG 21.11.22

1000 Voices by Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu, Regional Director of Commissioning, NHS England – North West

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and increased health inequalities: the unacceptable, unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health across our population and between population groups.​

​We know this. But knowing it is not enough. We need to listen to the voices and stories of the people most affected by social disadvantage. To hear what they tell us. And to use their experiences to guide the way we plan and deliver services.​

​That’s why in the North West we have collected 1000 unique first-hand accounts of their pandemic experiences from people who, because of their age, ethnicity, economic circumstances or other factors, are affected by health inequalities.

Their testimony is powerful and compelling. They tell us about:​

  • struggling to access many types of care, especially for long-term conditions, because of the impact of Covid on services. This has ongoing consequences for some. Those most affected were older, disabled or homeless people and people in rural areas​.
  • positive outcomes from quick, flexible, local support provided by voluntary groups – such as homeless charities, befriending services and peer mentors helping older people with digital technology – and families. For some homeless people, this has given them the chance to create a better future​. For others, it kept them going at a very difficult time.
  • heightened anxiety caused by both increased isolation and losses from Covid – bereavements and also missing out on seeing loved ones, especially in care homes – and by missing life milestones, particularly for young people​.
  • issues caused by the rapid move to digital for what were previously mainly face to face services. This had a profound impact on older people and those who were already less likely to have the skills or equipment to educate their children at home, shop remotely, and work or access care online​.
  • missing out on vital information such as national guidance – because communications did not reach them in a way they could access or understand. This particularly impacted homeless communities and people with English as an additional language.​

Some of the quotes highlight the experience of people who do not have access to things most of us take for granted, like mobile phone contracts.

“Local GP cost £23 to get through and get an appointment (using a pay as you go phone) as you could not go in and make appointment – if you have no means to phone, you are stranded.”  This was said by a person from Lancashire.

And “There was no information about where to go for help, no notice, no leaflets. I had no mobile phone” – a member of the Blackpool homeless community.

But the impacts shared by the voices went much wider than that.

“I am in depression and take medication for it because I feel like I have so much to manage now, budgeting is difficult” – a mother from Greater Manchester.

“I was studying a degree course when the pandemic struck. All of my tutorials went online. As I am blind and the course was very visual, I found this very, very difficult​” – a disabled student from Lancashire.

“I’ve lost regular contact points like shop keepers and community organisations where you could see and talk with familiar faces. Isolation creeps in and you don’t know who to contact” ​– a 40-year-old man from Lancashire.

For some people, there were positives:

“Recently I moved to a local hotel where my life has transformed. I feel that for the first time since I can remember I have a chance to rebuild my life. I am making every effort to stay ‘clean’ and make a determined effort every day to make my life better” – a member of the Blackpool homeless community​.

“Social prescribing has been brilliant. Taken the time to link me up to support and not overload me” – a voice from a deprived area in Cheshire and Merseyside.​

This evidence was mainly gathered by voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise organisations, working closely with communities across the North West, between January 2021 and February 2022.

Although the groups targeted depended on the demographics of the different integrated care systems, as a totality the 1000 voices consisted of people:​

  • from the most deprived 20% of communities​, from ethnic minority backgrounds and from communities at risk of digital exclusion​
  • experiencing food insecurity, aged 55 and above and not in work, ​and whose first language is not English​
  • under 25, including those who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and young carers​.​

​This was not about a representative sample but listening to the experiences of different communities in different parts of the North West to build a picture of their pandemic experiences and what we can learn from that.

The diagram below shows the geographical spread of voices​.

The people who shared their time and experiences with us have provided both an invaluable resource and a call for organisations to take action now.​ The findings came from all systems in the North West and are a collective reflection of the region. There is a uniqueness to the work that gives a depth to both what we heard and how the learning can be used to tackle health inequalities in our region.

With this in mind, we are working with integrated care systems across the North West to ask how they will use these insights for their populations, track the difference this is making and further develop this work.

​Together, we can reduce health inequalities and make lasting change.

Detailed information about 1000 Voices is available on the North West Community of Practice, which is for all staff working in health and care in the North West.

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