THERE WHEN THE SIREN SOUNDS

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Editor's Letter -

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

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