The British winter of 2009-10 was officially the worst for 30 years, with record low temperatures and heavy snowfalls whiting out large areas. More than twenty people died in appalling conditions as roads were closed, cars abandoned, and stranded motorists appealed for help. Where WNS Assistance was concerned, there was a significant 37% increase in claims calls as well as widespread disruption to the vehicle repair network.
As the pressure on its clients grew, WNS management set out to implement a severe weather action plan to minimise the impact on both fleets and private motorists.
Nowhere was this more vital than with the National Blood Service (NBS), a Special Health Authority within the NHS that provides a life-saving transfusion service. Part of NHS Blood and Transplant, NBS is entirely dependent on voluntary donors supplying vital blood and blood products to hospitals throughout England and North Wales. And, crucially, the supply route involves 15 main centres that have to remain open 24/7 - whatever the weather.
To carry out the task of collecting blood at more than 20,000 donor sessions a year and urgently transporting it to these centres for testing and processing before it can reach the hospitals, NBS has a 500-strong fleet. This comprises more than 17 different specifications of vehicle, ranging from estate cars to small and large panel vans and from minibuses to articulated trucks, many designed with blood in mind and with a significant number dedicated to emergency deliveries under ‘blue light’ conditions.
Where blood is concerned, it is essential that it reaches the end user safely and in good time and the NBS, in common with other commercial fleets, could hardly afford an increase in motor accidents arising from last winter’s snow and ice.
Incredibly, however, the entire operation continued without serious interruption as NBS vehicles were kept on the road and blood pressure remained low – in more ways than one!
“The various methods we use to transport and deliver blood are only validated for finite periods, giving our drivers limited time to work in,” explains NBS national fleet controller John Lowden, who has more than 30 years’ experience in maintaining and managing fleets. “It’s hardly surprising, then, that we are very conscious of any disruption to our operations and quick to look for solutions when there is any threat.
“Yet we didn’t have a single complaint from drivers or customers, whether internal or external, about any perceived lack of support throughout the entire winter weather. That was at least partly because WNS provided us with regular email bulletins about accident management and repair, which we then cascaded down the management chain so that everyone knew the latest situation and, just as importantly, that everything was being done to provide the drivers with the support they needed, whether rescue, ad hoc repairs, or vehicle recovery and repair.”
WNS communications involved prioritising all first notification of loss (FNOL) calls so that no driver was left stranded, working closely with the repair network to resolve problems and make the best use of existing capacity for only the most urgent repairs, while at the same time advising clients such as NBS which accident-damaged vehicles could safely await their turn.
“WNS were pro-active throughout the whole period,” explained Mr Lowden,
“balancing our need to keep the fleet moving against not overloading the bodyshops. This meant that we were relaxed about the inevitable backlog of repairs that built up, which were handled smoothly enough once the immediate crisis was over.”
“Some bodyshops had to close for a short period during the worst of the weather,” explained Tim Rankin, WNSA managing director, “but effective communication meant that we were able to divert recoveries and work to alternative repairers in the wider area.
“In the worst-affected areas, additional bodyshops were added to the network. The strategy resulted from the forward planning for the surge of repairs predicted to follow from the high volume of calls.
“We found that the key elements required for dealing with the impact of the exceptional weather conditions were planning, prioritisation, and, most important of all where our clients were concerned, communication. Crises are much easier to face when you know what’s going on.”