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Monday 22 January 2024

"My colleagues are struggling — I want to give them a voice"

By Craig Ryan

MEET YOUR REPS: Proud to be both a manager and a paramedic, new MiP rep Glenn McPeak says he wants to speak up for managers in the ambulance service who feel unsupported, undervalued and under pressure.

“I see myself as a paramedic who manages rather than a manager who used to be a paramedic,” says Glenn McPeak, head of emergency medical services for the South Central region of the Welsh Ambulance Service, and a newly accredited MiP rep. “I’m still a registered paramedic and want to keep my skills and training up to date. I’ve always seen that as the most important thing I’ve done.”

Glenn became a manager “by default”, he says. “If you get good at something, you quickly get promoted and you suddenly find yourself not doing the job you joined to do in the first place.”

At the peak of the Covid crisis, working as a quality manager for what is now Surrey Heartlands ICB, Glenn volunteered to work shifts as a paramedic for South East Coast ambulance service. “I knew they were under pressure,” he says. I was a qualified paramedic, so it seemed like the right thing to do.”

He knew Covid was serious but didn’t feel it had affected him much personally. “It was only when I went out operationally and I heard how nervous the staff were and how concerned they were about the impact on their families, that I started to realise how tough life was for frontline clinicians,” he recalls.

This experience led Glenn back into the ambulance service, where he’d begun his career more thirty years earlier as a trainee paramedic in his native Northern Ireland. Working through the last decade of the Troubles was “probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done”, he says. “You wouldn’t call it lucky, I suppose, but it was an amazing learning experience and I worked with some fabulous people.”

As an ambulance service manager, “people always ask you where you’ve come from,” he says. “They want to know if you have a badge that says you’re one of them… I spent ten years going to terrorist incidents and I’ve seen stuff that I hope you won’t even begin to dream about attending. When I say what I’ve done, people’s whole attitude and demeanour changes.”

After completing training in October, Glenn became MiP’s first accredited rep in the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAST). Previously a UNISON steward, he’d felt “encouraged to step away” as “it’s still frowned upon for a manager to be a rep, I think, in most organisations,” he says. “But I thought if I moved across to MiP, I could be the one to put my head above the parapet and speak up for my colleagues – who I knew were struggling a bit.”

Morale among WAST managers is “pretty low at the moment”, Glenn says. “They feel undervalued and under-supported as a group” and find it hard “to speak up about some of the things they’re asked to do and the culture and behaviour that’s going on”. Problems such as widespread sexual harassment in the ambulance service – which hit the headlines in Wales over the summer – “are very, very deep rooted in my experience, but WAST are taking steps to address this, which I'm hopeful will bring about the change we need,” he adds.

The WAST “operating model and financial constraints” add to managers’ already heavy workloads. Colleagues find it “really frustrating” that management reviews often mean new responsibilities being added to objectives that are already not being met, he says. “And then we wonder why they’re not achieving what we’ve asked them to do.”

As an MiP rep, Glenn wants colleagues to know that “they have a voice in terms of the challenges and issues they face”. A lot of managers don’t feel comfortable confiding in close colleagues or a rep from another union who they may have management responsibility for, he says. “Inevitably, we take our worries home, don’t we? We have a bit of a rant, have a glass of wine and say, ‘Right, well, it’ll be okay tomorrow.’”

MiP gives them “another option, a union that will represent them as managers so they don’t get caught in the crossfire,” he says. “First and foremost, I want to promote what MiP does and the benefits for managers, and try to build up the membership within [WAST].”

At 53, Glenn says he “came late to family life”, and with two young children and a 90-minute commute from his Cirencester home to his office in Pontypridd, he certainly has his hands full. “It’s not too bad,” he replies cheerfully. “I work from home once or twice a week and I always try to get home for bedtime. And we have the weekends, so we try to cram in as much as we can.”

  • If you’re interested in becoming an MiP link member or rep, contact MiP organiser, Rebecca Hall: r.hall@miphealth.org.uk.

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