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Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

In January I went to a disused office building in Wembley for my first day as an NHS Vaccine Volunteer. I wrote about it here. Last week I did my 15th session and thought I would write down some equally random observations.

I’ve been to 10 different vaccination centres ranging from small high street pharmacies to big centres jabbing 20 at a time in health centres and factory canteens as far away as Ilford and Mile End.

It’s been a fantastic and emotional experience and I’ve loved almost every minute of it. I’ve learned a lot about people – good, bad and indifferent, and a lot about the NHS and the organisation of the vaccination process. But there is still a lot I am puzzled by. Every vaccination centre has been differently run and there appears to be no common protocol. For someone who is helping establish the process of inviting 100+ architects back into the studio, there are still a few concerns.

Sometimes at the start of a shift (usually 4 hours) someone will take time to run through the process at each venue. Sometimes I will be asked to take a lateral flow test, sometimes have my temperature taken, sometimes neither. Usually I am put to work on the door. Whether that is because I am suitably welcoming or suitably menacing, I haven’t asked. I check everyone on the list and enter their details on an iPad, which correlates with their NHS details. In my experience the admin has been amazing with very few glitches. In March one middle aged man joined the queue in Hoxton at 4pm. “My appointment was 10am but I overslept and forgot. I wanted to ask how it was possible to forget what is the biggest, most important world event in most people’s lifetime but just said “Never mind you’re here now. You will be seen in 5 minutes”

From April we seem to have the equipment to take temperatures before anyone is admitted inside. So far I’ve turned no one away. But I’ve never been told what temperature is excessive despite asking a few times. I’m guessing 38??

Back in January there was a chance to chat as the older attendees often needed more time and attention. They told wonderful stories and were grateful to be given the injection. Now its an efficient process, less time to talk with most people in and out in 10/15 minutes. There are an increasing number who want to talk through their concerns. Some are in the consultation room for 20/30 minutes. The Doctors are not there to persuade or convince but to listen, explain and address any concerns. Less than 1% seem to decide not to proceed.

Occasionally I will see someone I know. Last month a client recognised me behind my mask and seemed quite embarrassed broaching the question of what I was doing. Didn’t I used to run a reasonably successful architectural practice? I explained that I try to volunteer one evening every week and the business is actually doing quite well.

Last week for the first time I was asked to dispense hand sanitiser to everyone before letting them in. If that is important why weren’t we doing it 6 months ago? Similarly at some centres chairs are wiped down every 20 minutes. At others it is every 2 hours. At others not at all. In Bow I was asked to wipe down the clipboards after they were used by attendees for completing questionnaires. I was not asked to wipe the pens but thought I should do them anyway. It didn’t seem to make sense otherwise. The Government instructions in July 2020 were “Stay Alert”. A year later I for one am still unsure what I need to be alert to. If we think the virus is spread on chairs, clipboards (or pens) than why, when 300-1000 people are passing through each afternoon aren’t we being more thorough?

On my most recent session I noticed the nurses administering the vaccine were changing their plastic aprons after every shot. Previously it was once an hour. The act of pulling off the apron every few minutes, scrunching it up and disposing of it in a poorly ventilated room made me pleased to be by the door. I hope someone has done a proper risk evaluation, I­’m fully confident Matt Hancock Sajid Javid has it in hand. But if nothing else it’s not great for our use of plastic. There seems to be such a lot we don’t yet know. Why are we all still wearing the cheapest, flimsiest face masks?

All the NHS staff are truly amazing and it is an honour to work alongside them. Last week for the first time we had a huddle at the end of the shift to learn from the day’s experience and events. It was incredibly emotional- for me, they are all to used to it- and amazing to be part of. Matthew Syed, in one of his brilliant books gives an unflattering account of how the medical profession fails to learn from mistakes by a culture of secrecy, closing ranks around any failures. He contrasts the difference with the airline industry which records all data and every aspect is examined and discussed and the results implemented. The huddle at least shared the experiences amongst our small group.

Perhaps one day there will be a proper analysis. It seems to me, an uninformed outsider that we failed to learn any lessons at all from the countries who were affected by SARS and they have fared much better than us because they knew what to do. They generally had more decisive politicians who took action quickly. Hopefully we will be better prepared for the next one. But based on my experiences I’m not too confident.

Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

Related Thoughts

How can we help?

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about us and how we work with our clients, consultants and colleagues.