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RCEM COVID-19 readiness

23 March 2020

The College has been bracing itself ready to support our Members and Fellows as soon as it became apparent there was a potential pandemic in the making. Below is an update on where we are at the moment.

Summary for busy readers
The College personnel have already been working from home in line with the advice of the Government and will continue to do so until the advice changes.

Our systems are designed to help us continue as far as possible to maintain business as usual for Members and Fellows.  Obviously face to face meetings, study days and a number of examinations are cancelled, and we are quickly developing options to migrate to online arrangements where we can.

We wish to support our Members and Fellows through the crisis so let us know if there is anything we can help with.

Full update
We have Business Continuity Plans in place, reviewed every three years, and we dusted these off on 3 March 2020 and invoked the Crisis Management Team.

This group of managers started meeting weekly to review official advice, consider our risks, plan, test, scale up readiness as there was a clear expectation that we would need to move to a Working From Home model at some point. We purchased hand sanitiser, wipes and extra laptops when we first heard of the issues in China.

We have now moved to a work from home scenario to reduce the risks to the Emergency Medicine workforce and our own employees through our activities. This means:

  1. all College meetings (including Council and Committees) are now being run as virtual meetings assuming they are to go ahead and not be postponed
  2. we are postponing examinations but here we have a concern about those examinations that are on Trainees critical path to CCT
  3. we have cancelled or postponed all study days, our CPD conference and other CPD related activity through to end June
  4. we have to decide by April 11 whether or not to cancel the Manchester Annual Scientific Conference, as thereafter cancellation costs escalate significantly
  5. we have advised our tenants at Breams that they should follow Government advice to be largely working from home, but if they wish to access their offices, they must take responsibility for the alarm/unlocking/locking up
  6. we are taking steps to protect our contractors and stand down services where this can be done, whilst the crisis is ongoing (eg daily milk deliveries, cleaning of the office etc)
  7. we have a number of key personnel ‘on call’ to attend the office to ensure its facilities are operating but carefully risk assessing this
  8. we continue to maintain an ongoing review of the international situation to ascertain which international examinations and events should continue drawing on local government advice as well as our own risk assessment – our immediate priority is to make sure UK workforce remain on hand in the UK through the crisis
  9. we are liaising with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to try and put together messages from the Colleges acting in concert where we can
  10. we have advised our Trustees Council on 13 March of our present state of readiness – all future Council meetings will take place online.

Our IT systems are procured to allow for home working.  When we last renewed our IT services enabling home working as a contingency and to ease pressure on desk space was important. The College uses a number of systems for membership, general office work, examinations, events, ePortfolio, e-learning, our website and so on.  All of these are configured to allow employees to continue working from home. In some instances, they are a touch more clunky than when in the office but working from home is possible and many staff have been doing that on and off for some years.

Our telephone services are diverted to mobile phones. One issue is that if you phone us, the person who answers won’t be able to transfer a call whilst we are working at home. They will have to take a message and get a colleague to call you back. It is simply a function of how the system works.

In the run up to the crisis we upgraded our software and hardware in the College to have enhanced video conferencing. This is now running.

We have plans to arrange for the despatch of diplomas, support existing work to assist Doctors in Training, manage our events (where much of the work is now trying to salvage content and repackage into online offerings), continue to administer our Committees – these are now all meeting virtually for the time being. We will continue where the opportunity presents to lobby and advise government, and we are committed to disseminating information quickly and manage our social media.

Much of the administrative work will continue unchanged by our present operations working largely from home. However, as the specialty experiences the real challenges then this will impact on our workloads too.

We have commissioned specialist cleaning as a precaution.

Our post is being diverted to an employee at home who will scan and circulate it accordingly.

In financial terms the cancellation of events and examinations is a significant burden. We are experiencing abortive costs and refunds of ticket sales. Our estimates are for a loss of £1m. Our insurers won’t pay out unless the official advice is to cancel events and presently the approach taken by the government leaves the decision with the provider which makes a claim unlikely. In any case our insurance is renewed in June and covers us up to £100k in the aggregate and insurers will cancel communicable disease cover at renewal for covid-19 which is now what they term a ‘known event’.

We have sufficient reserves to weather this financial hit in 2020 and will be reviewing our plans in the late summer as we plan budgets for 2021. In the meantime, we are working through our finances seeking to cancel all discretionary spend where we can. For example, all recruitment has been put on hold.

We know that our Members and Fellows are at the front line and we want to do all we can to support you.

With best wishes,

Gordon Miles
Chief Executive
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine

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