Trustee Interview – Harry Richardson

Name: Harry Richardson

Charity: Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS)

Please provide a brief bio on yourself – Personal and professional experience and passions

I currently work in project management in the NHS (I’m the third generation of my family to work in the NHS – we’re not an imaginative bunch!), having recently completed a Masters’ in Public Policy at King’s College London. Prior to this I had worked for a number of years in the House of Commons in various research roles, and have had experience as a healthcare assistant in a hospice.

Following a road traffic collision I became trustee of Suffolk Accident Rescue Service and a governor of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and in my spare time I serve as a magistrate. As a result of my collision I have developed a passion for Urgent and Emergency Care, which is reflected in my current career in supporting system-wide interventions and improvement programmes in the NHS.

Please provide a brief description on your charity – what are your aims? 

Suffolk Accident Rescue Service is a pre-hospital emergency care provider. We are a voluntary organisation, with doctors and critical care paramedics working in their spare time to supplement the work of the ambulance service. Our responders have advanced clinical skills, training, and equipment that are not readily found on front-line ambulances.

This means that when we are dispatched to critical incidents we can deliver life-saving interventions that can ordinarily only take place in a hospital environment, reducing the risk of mortality and life-changing injuries. We have a rapid response vehicle that can be deployed at short notice but the majority of our volunteers are solo responders out in the community.

As we are based in a predominately rural area this often means that SARS responders are the first resource on the scene of an incident, which can dramatically improve outcomes for the patients we treat. However, while we work alongside the ambulance service we are not commissioned by the NHS – we receive no government funding so are entirely reliant on voluntary donations, but provide a unique and essential service nevertheless

Q&A Questions 

  1. How long have you been a trustee?

I have been a trustee of Suffolk Accident Rescue Service since January 2016, so just under three years.

  1. What made you want to become a trustee?

My association with SARS stemmed from my involvement in a serious road traffic collision when I was 17. I have no recollection of the event – I spent the following two weeks in an induced coma in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge – but the life-saving intervention by Dr Andy Mason, a retired GP and SARS responder, meant that I was able to make a full recovery. After I became aware of SARS’s incredible work I became motivated to offer my assistance to them in return, and was delighted to accept the Board’s suggestion that I join as a trustee to offer my insights as a former patient.

  1. Why did you want to support a charity in (insert sector)? E.g. Arts/International/Animals.

I had no knowledge of accident rescue charities before my car crash, so learning how much they do and how little support they receive motivated me to help in whatever way I can. Having a highly-trained professional attending the scene of a major incident within minutes can mean the difference between life and death – it certainly did in my case. Despite this, SARS receive no statutory funding, and so supporting this fantastic organisation seemed like an obvious choice for me; after all, the fact that I am still talking, walking, and generally just living is testament to the extraordinary work that SARS does!

  1. Did you know much about this charitable cause before you became involved as a trustee?

Nothing at all! This perhaps reflects one of our greatest challenges, that the role of ‘accident rescue charities’ is not widely publicised or understood. The fact that most of our volunteers are doctors or critical care paramedics mean that we can provide interventions at the scene of an incident that can usually only take place within a hospital – it is something akin to bringing an Emergency Department to the roadside.  However, the result is that the distinction between the ambulance service and accident rescue charities is not always clear, and this remains a particular difficulty for organisations such as SARS.

  1. What do you feel trusteeship adds to your personal and professional development?

Being a trustee has given me a real insight in to the challenges – and benefits – of running a small organisation. The effective scrutiny and oversight of our income streams and financial performance is hugely important, especially whilst ensuring that we maintain sustainable levels of operational activity. This experience has been invaluable both in understanding the risks associated with delivering an essential public service with limited resources, and in appreciating our reliance on a tremendous team of dedicated and professional volunteers.

  1. What value have you been able to add to your charity with your personal and professional experience?

I hope that through my experience as a patient I have been able to provide a unique insight at Board level, by emphasising the importance of our outputs and the quality of the service that we deliver. Similarly, I have represented the charity at external events to raise SARS’s profile and to publicise to the important of our work. In addition, through my experience of operating in a politically sensitive environment I have been able to promote the interests of accident rescue charities at a national level.  In October 2017 I met with a minister at HM Treasury and was able to secure a grant for accident rescue charities in the subsequent budget in November, saving thousands of pounds for SARS and our colleagues across the UK.

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing charities?

Uncertainty has always been a perpetual concern for charities but challenges around a lack of public trust and the reputational risks associated with this are a significant issue. The vast majority of charities are small – nearly 80% of charities in the UK have an income of less than £100,000 – so it’s easy for us to be buffeted by big changes in the sector. The impact of this can be profound, particularly for income streams and volunteer bases, but the resilience of smaller charities – and the generous support we receive from members of the public – is always a source of encouragement.

  1. What would you say are the important attributes a trustee should have?

Sound judgment and objectivity are crucial. Being able to dispassionately scrutinise the work of a charity – even one to which you owe your life, as in my case – does not always come naturally but it is a vital component of effective corporate governance. A strong sense of integrity is also something I believe is important. A willingness to ask those ‘awkward questions’ and to challenge different viewpoints in a measured way is necessary to hold decision-makers account to ensure that donors money is spent fairly and the charity’s core purposes are being fulfilled.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about becoming a trustee what would it be?

Have a chat with someone! I became a trustee after I came along to SARS’s AGM, and was able to meet volunteers, staff members, and trustees – they convinced me of the importance of the work they do, but also persuaded me of the merits of becoming a trustee. I would definitely recommend doing the same: whether its reaching out to the Chair or turning up to an AGM, being able to gain and insight into their work first-hand is the most important first step.