Mobilisation and operation of a virtual Incident Coordination Centre for COVID-19

Providing leadership oversight and delivery of COVID-19 planning and response activities across the South East region for NHSE/I.

The challenge

The South East COVID-19 ICC facilitates the flow of information and instruction between the National Coordination Centre and the six Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) in the region. It is a vital link in the chain of command at a regional level, ensuring that guidance from the centre is disseminated at pace to systems and that issues arising in the region are managed or escalated appropriately.

As COVID-19 started to escalate across the UK, the South East Incident Management Team asked SCW to help manage the Incident Coordination Centre. Specifically, they asked us to:

  • Scale up the operation from a team of 10 initially to a team of nearly 40 at peak
  • Rapidly transition from an on-site coordination centre to a virtual operation
  • Provide leadership of the ICC function, with staff drawn from multiple NHS organisations

The approach

  • In a very short period, we recruited, trained and rostered additional staff from NHSE&I, the NHS Leadership Academy and SCW, to form a single coherent team.
  • We adapted existing roles to enable the team to work more efficiently at scale
  • We re-developed the staff rota to increase coverage from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week
  • We implemented new operating procedures to focus team members on the most appropriate tasks according to their experience and ICC priorities
  • We disaggregated and ‘outsourced’ some activities (situation reporting, death recording and reporting, content management) to dedicated off-site teams so that the core ICC team could be more responsive to incoming enquiries and escalations

This approach helped ensure that NHSE&I specialist teams (EPRR, UEC) were increasingly able to focus on resolving emerging issues and horizon scanning rather than operational duties.

Historically, ICCs have been on-site operations that benefit from direct interaction between members of the Incident Management Team ‘in the room’. The nature of this pandemic meant that on-site operations presented significant staff welfare and business continuity risks. So the SCW team redesigned key processes, implemented remote working technologies, and project-managed the transition to an entirely virtual operating model within a fortnight.

The result

The model we implemented continues to work successfully, and we have been asked to identify lessons and recommendations that can be incorporated into regional/national operating frameworks for future incidents and emergencies.

In addition to staffing into the core ICC team and providing a PMO function, SCW has also provided technical skills and support for the South East region to augment their response capability. This includes media handling and communications expertise, procurement and supply chain expertise into the PPE cell, and GIS mapping support for the Nightingale hospital cell. 

We have been commissioned to continue supporting the South East team during the next stages of the response which will include coordinating debriefs and leading on process improvement work and preparing to scale the team again if necessary to manage subsequent phases of the pandemic response.


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