THERE WHEN THE SIREN SOUNDS
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE 22 March
Terrorist Khalid Masood drove a 4x4 into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge killing four and injuring 50 before crashing it into railings. He then ran into a yard outside Parliament with a knife and killed a police officer. He was shot by security officers and pronounced dead at hospital. LESLEY POWLS, above, 47, is site director at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington The news broke during an internal management meeting when one of my colleagues caught my eye and held up a phone alert. I used to work close to Westminster Bridge so it really felt poignant. I was anxious because we didn’t know what we’d see in terms of injuries and we were the nearest of London’s four major trauma centres to the attack. In my role, though, I have to stay calm and we have an enormous major incident protocol – 175 pages – so everyone knows what to do.
I was in the incident room – where I stayed for most of the day coordinating our response – when the attacker, Khalid Masood, arrived as one of the first of eight casualties we treated. However, all trauma patients are pre-allocated made-up names, such as Disney characters, by the London Ambulance Service so we have limited information about them other than their injuries. Everyone who comes through our doors is treated equally, irrespective of how they were injured or what anyone believes about them. Masood was no different.
You try to concentrate on the job, but it is emotionally challenging. I felt immense pride in the response of our staff. Those who speak multiple languages stayed to translate and help long past when they should have gone home. I’m not known for being touchy-feely but when my deputy came to relieve me at 10pm, after a 15-hour shift, I gave him a large embrace.
That night, my husband met me off the tube with another hug; he’d been following the news and I’d sent him messages telling him how much I love and value him. We went home together but I didn’t turn on the news; I didn’t want to see it. I was back at the hospital at 5am the following day.
Afterwards I said I never wanted to run a major incident like it again although, in my heart, I knew it would happen. Within weeks we’d lived through the London Bridge attack and Grenfell Tower fire – and I was on hand for both.
We’re all put in situations that we could never dream of managing, but when it happens, we absolutely do. It has shown me how physically and emotionally resilient both the victims of these atrocities and my brilliant colleagues are. Right, from top: ambulances queue up to attend to the injured on Westminster Bridge; flowers festoon the railings of Parliament in honour of the dead; Londoners proclaim their resolve to stand strong in the wake of the attack