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“See us as humans. Speak to us with respect. Listen to us.” A qualitative study on UK ambulance staff requirements of leadership while working during the COVID-19 pandemic


Background The COVID-19 Ambulance Response Assessment (CARA) study aimed to enable the experiences of UK frontline ambulance staff working during the first wave of the pandemic to be heard. Specifically, CARA aimed to assess feelings of preparedness and well-being and to collect suggestions for beneficial leadership support.

Methods Three online surveys were sequentially presented between April and October 2020. Overall, 18 questions elicited free-text responses that were analysed qualitatively using an inductive thematic approach.

Findings Analysis of 14 237 responses revealed participants’ goals and their requirements of leadership to enable those goals to be achieved. A large number of participants expressed low confidence and anxiety resulting from disagreement, inconsistency and an absence of transparency related to policy implementation. Some staff struggled with large quantities of written correspondence and many desired more face-to-face training and an opportunity to communicate with policymakers. Suggestions were made on how best to allocate resources to reduce operational demands and maintain service delivery, and a need to learn from current events in order to plan for the future was stressed. To further support well-being, staff wanted leadership to understand and empathise with their working conditions, to work to reduce the risks and if required, to facilitate access to appropriate therapeutic interventions.

Conclusions This study demonstrates that ambulance staff desire both inclusive and compassionate leadership. Leadership should aim to engage in honest dialogue and attentive listening. Resultant learning can then inform policy development and resource allocation to effectively support both service delivery and staff well-being.

  • COVID-19
  • empathy
  • health policy
  • medical leadership
  • research

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. De-identified participant data held by the sponsor will be made available if a reasonable request is submitted to the authors.

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