“People forget that we’re key workers too and an important cog in the wheel”

Tomas Zievys, Warehouse Supervisor at AAH Leeds, reflects on how he and his team helped support customers, the NHS and each other during the COVID-19 outbreak.

When the Coronavirus outbreak reached its peak, I honestly felt like all I did was work, sleep and repeat. It was like I was on a hamster wheel and I wasn’t sure when I’d be getting off.

I’d start my shift at 2pm and wouldn’t finish until 1am some days. The long shifts and late finishes meant I was sleeping for longer and wasn’t spending time with my family. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. To say it was exhausting would be an understatement, but knowing we were helping the NHS is what has kept me going throughout this pandemic.

Every day there were staff shortages. You came to expect it and had no choice but to just deal with it. The workload was increasing, and our workforce was depleting through sickness and the need for people to self-isolate. But day after day, despite being understaffed, we pulled together as a team and managed to pick every single one of our customers’ orders.

It’s been tough trying to keep everyone motivated at times, especially with all the changes we’ve had to implement. I’ve had to keep reminding people why we do what we do and that every medicine or healthcare product that we pick represents a patient that’s relying on us. Some nights when we’ve been working late, I’ve bought everyone pizza to show them how much I appreciate their efforts and it’s little gestures like this that have really made a difference to team morale.

Naturally people have been concerned about risking their and their loved one’s health, and I’ve been one of them. My wife is pregnant, so I’ve had to take strict measures to ensure her safety. I’ve kept my distance from people at work and when I get home my clothes go straight into the washing machine and I go straight into the shower.

 

I’ve often felt guilty about the lack of time I’ve spent with my family recently – I even gave up my holiday two days in. My manager asked me whether I could come back and I joked that it was because they couldn’t cope without me. But really it was because demand was through the roof and they needed help – I did it without question. I wanted to do what I could to contribute to the fight against this virus. I kept telling myself the sacrifices were all worth it because we were helping people get the medicines they need. I am also constantly reminded that so many other people have sacrificed much more when I turn on the TV or radio.

There has been so much work, and at times I didn’t think we’d be able to manage it. But the team here in Leeds is strong and they’ve exceeded expectations every day. I’ve never appreciated the people I work with more – or felt prouder. One thing I will say though, is that no one will ever complain about the volumes during the Christmas period now we’ve contended with this. If they do, all I will say is one word – Coronavirus.

Every Thursday at 8pm I’ve made the eight departments I look after stop and clap, not just for the NHS but for themselves. People forget that we’re key workers too and an important cog in the wheel. We might not be working in hospitals or pharmacies, but we help save lives by making sure they have the medicines they need to care for their patients.