As a publicly-funded sector, many of our institutions have had to contend with austerity policies, socio-economic changes and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. All of these events have naturally prompted rapid changes that have required fast-paced adaptation. The need to serve a dynamic population in a challenging environment continues to propel transformation in the sector. We take a more in-depth look at the factors driving this transformation below.
Technology: embracing opportunities for rapid operational transformation
Digital transformation is by no means a new concept for the emergency services. Often, this sector is among the forerunners to adopt new technologies that can optimise its processes. There are, however, areas of lag due to financial restrictions. The burden of rolling out and implementing new IT-based infrastructure should also not be underestimated as an undertaking, particularly while life-saving services have to continue operating without disruption.
Digital transformation often has to be implemented in phases. For example, legacy management systems have to be replaced so that new, more efficient integrations can be introduced. New devices also play a significant role; the recent initiative to provide ambulance crews with 30,000 iPads, for example, now enables paramedics to access health records and send photographs to clinicians instantly, ensuring a faster, more successful way of dealing with incidents on site.
An increasing emphasis on inter-service collaboration drives the need for digital transformation. Emergency service providers must share information to create more effective operational processes, save resources, and mitigate risk. Each Blue Light service currently has digital transformation on the agenda and is working towards a government-led framework that will provide leaders with more visibility and a better understanding of what's required in terms of funding and infrastructure.
The impact of globalisation: serving diverse new communities
The UK continues to nurture a diverse population with unique requirements. The Police Force has identified globalisation and an ageing population as catalysts for new challenges that will require a more sophisticated approach to how they perform tasks and serve communities. A document produced by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners highlights proposals to devolve power to locally elected mayors and build a network between the health, policing and social services to ensure that practices become more integrated.
The nature of crime is also changing; child sexual exploitation and targeting of vulnerable groups with fraud-related crimes are becoming more prominent issues. This means that the forces responding to, preventing and handling these incidents need a high level of training and understanding of the landscape.
Preparing for the future: the impact of AI
What may once have seemed futuristic is now an imminent reality. Policymakers have to factor in driverless cars and advancing technologies that may require new ways of handling issues arising from their application and integration into everyday life. This will require partnerships between different service providers to ensure that law enforcement can be applied and that emergencies relating to these technologies can be handled with adequate preparation and expertise.
Prioritising emergency services workers: health and wellbeing as a primary focus
As pressure mounts on blue light services to deliver care and protection to citizens, the people who carry out these tasks are feeling the brunt. Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, 69% of emergency responders have reported a deteriorating state of mental health.
Institutions need to take a serious initiative to address these issues if they are to meet their goals of improving staff retention rates and continue attracting workers to these vital roles. The Mind charity has set up a Blue Light Programme to help deal with the mental health crisis in the sector by offering information and support.
First responders are often viewed as stoic individuals who trudge on, mostly unaffected by incidents they are called to attend. The reality, however, is starkly different, and public perceptions need to change to ensure that these individuals don't struggle in silence. Research by Mind reveals a "fear of the perceived stigma associated with experiencing a mental health problem" amongst emergency workers. Almost three-quarters stated that their organisation did not encourage open conversation about mental health. At its core, this is an issue relating to the culture of these organisations and should be a high priority for leadership.
Recent studies by The Royal Foundation show that organisations are taking significant steps to address wellbeing; however, provision varies widely by region and service and accountability is often passed onto the individual rather than the organisation. It has been suggested that a "Research Consortium" should be established to generate shared data to empower and enable an aligned approach to addressing welling for emergency responders. Establishing better practices and facilitated access to mental health and wellbeing support is continuously highlighted as a key necessity to create happier, healthier and more productive emergency services workers.
Compounded by the effects of the pandemic, all of these factors look set to accelerate. The need for more collaboration, data consolidation and a people-centric approach to managing the emergency service workforce is required. As new challenges arise, it has never been more important to facilitate communication and innovation in the emergency services sector so that people, processes and technologies can align. Budgets will continue to be an area of contention, but the transformation in this sector should always be guided by the principles necessary to serve and protect citizens while keeping front line responders safe and productive within their roles.