Leadership diaries: "The days spent with crew are vital to my role as CEO"

David Welch, CEO of Air Ambulance Charity Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) and winner of the Charity Times Charity Leader of the Year Award 2021, describes his working week.


Today I worked a 7am to 7pm flying shift with the day crew. My day began with the daily pilot briefing where we discussed weather conditions, NOTAMS, which include any aviation issues in the area, helipad closures and any aircraft maintenance issues. I then observed the crew conducting their daily checks, which include checking the medical bags for our aircrafts and rapid response vehicles, and reviewing the training schedule and duties for the day. On average, we are dispatched to six to eight missions a day and they can be anywhere within the counties of Kent, Surrey, East Sussex or West Sussex. Whenever we get a call out, we aim to be up in the air within five minutes. At the end of every mission and the end of every shift we have a debrief which is crucial as staff wellbeing is such a high priority for us. I have to say, it’s a real privilege to be able to observe our crews and witness first-hand the incredible skills of our HEMS doctors and paramedics. I really am in awe of their ability to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients.

My days spent with the crew are vital to my role as CEO. I gain huge insight from every mission and by spending a significant amount of time with them, I have a far better understanding of their roles, the challenges they face and, of course, the job satisfaction and pride they have as a KSS doctor, paramedic or pilot.


To protect our staff and our service we are continuing with hybrid working where possible across the organisation and, when office based, I split my time across KSS’s two locations; Redhill and Rochester. I typically spend two days a week in Redhill and one in Rochester and then rotate, with the remaining two days working from home. Today I was based at Rochester where I always take the opportunity to catch up with staff members and hear what they are up to. It’s great to talk to our volunteers who are in the office, too. I spent two hours in a meeting with our senior leadership team (SLT), made up of myself, our executive directors and medical directors. We meet every two weeks to discuss our strategic plans and varying items including topics such as filming opportunities, policy discussions and approval, preparations for committee and board meetings, risk and management accounts. I feel very fortunate to have such a committed, experienced team – we work in a very collaborative way and I always welcome their views on how we can continually evolve and best achieve our vision of ending the preventable loss of life through medical emergency. This afternoon, we welcomed our founder, Kate Chivers to the office. It is always a pleasure to see Kate, who is immensely supportive of how we have evolved and grown the charity since she founded it in 1989.


I spent the day in Redhill today and was able to catch up with the crews on shift and find out more about their week. I also had the pleasure of welcoming Madi and her Mum, Jen to our offices. Madi was just two-and-a-half years old when she was kicked by a passing horse. Our crew spent about 20 minutes on scene assessing Madi’s injuries and deciding what immediate care she needed, before flying her to St George’s, arriving 12 minutes later. Since her accident, Madi and her family have become a huge part of Team KSS, helping to support the national Air Ambulances Week campaign, featuring in our summer fundraising appeals and more. Madi is also one of our Team KSS Young Ambassadors. All of our patients have the opportunity to visit us when they feel ready so that they can meet the team who helped to save their life. Often patients find this very helpful as a key part of their recovery journey – we are able to piece together aspects of their incident that they may have forgotten or may not have been aware of at the time. For the team at KSS, these visits are an amazing reminder of why our service is so important.

This afternoon I attended a board meeting with our trustees and the senior leadership team. We discussed The KSS Way; our cultural and strategic framework which defines our vision, purpose, goals and values as well as a number of significant strategic decisions we need to make over the next six months.


Today was one of my working from home days and I had a Zoom meeting with Lynne Harris, our executive director of income generation, marketing and communications. We discussed some of our upcoming fundraising appeals including our Christmas carol concert taking place at the start of December and our Run 31 fitness fundraiser planned for January. Our fitness fundraisers have been a huge success throughout the past year, including our 247 Vital Cycle which I completed in October.

This afternoon, I took part in the Air Ambulances UK (AAUK) CEO Forum and met with other Air Ambulance CEOs. We work very closely together to discuss issues, share best practice and drive the sector forwards. Today’s discussion was largely about how Air Ambulance charities can support the NHS during this pandemic. For me, this is an incredibly important peer network, providing me with a fresh perspective and invaluable insight into how other Air Ambulance services address specific challenges that we all face.


I always try to keep Fridays clear of meetings so that I have one full day to catch up on reading, strategic planning and reviewing documents, which today included our annual report. I also use this time to put thoughts together for my weekly dispatch email which I send to all of team KSS including staff, volunteers and Trustees each Monday. These newsletters are a key part of our internal communications and have been a key way to keep the team updated throughout the past challenging 20 months when a large proportion have been working remotely. Every week is incredibly busy and my executive assistant plays an amazing role in keeping me organised and on track. We have meetings on a daily basis as well as in-depth planning discussions about our current and future projects. This week I use this quieter time to start to plan my speech for our Christmas carol concert, a celebration of KSS and all that we have achieved throughout the year. It will be an opportunity to send our heartfelt thanks to all of our wonderful and inspiring supporters, volunteers and board members and send season’s greetings to all.

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