Covid infections have been rising at an alarming level in recent weeks brought on by the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Hounslow’s Director of Public Health, Kelly O’Neill and her team have been working hard to keep residents safe.

Ms O’Neill and members of her team popped in to see students at Rivers Academy West London shortly before the end of term to discuss their roles and why collaboration has been crucial to their success since the start of the pandemic. 

The purpose of their visit was to assist students with a project they were working on which revolved around a key question: How can we, as local public health directors, prepare a response plan to the spread of the next infectious disease?

The assignment is an example of the No Limits Curriculum which is in place for pupils in Years 7 and 8 at Rivers and is unique to the Aspirations Academies Trust. It involves students applying what they have learnt in the classroom to real-world projects that cross disciplines, known as Applied Transdisciplinary Learning (ATL). Teamwork and presentations are key aspects of ATL. 

Kelly O’Neill, Public Health Director for Hounslow, Sterling Rippy, Senior Public Health Strategist & Clare McKenzie, Senior Public Health Strategist discuss Covid plan in place for residents at Rivers Academy West London

Ms O’Neill revealed collaboration, a key skill learnt during ATL, has been vital to the success of the strategies and planning rolled out to tackle Covid-19 in the borough of Hounslow.

She told the students: ‘‘As a leader you have to set an example and you have to realise that you can’t absorb everything and you rely on having a team around you that can help you. 

‘‘We have also worked with other teams across London and our planning has had to change and adapt.’’

Ms O’Neill revealed one of the biggest challenges faced has been dealing with human nature and encouraging people to follow the guidelines set and to do the right thing for their health.

Different strategies have been used to target different demographics and has ranged from using social media to working with leaders of different faiths to ensure Hounslow’s multicultural community is aware of the help and support available. 

Ms O’Neill answered a string of questions from students during her presentation and said she was impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm. 

She also told them the future could see another virus take hold in the same way as Covid-19: ‘‘Yes, absolutely there could be another pandemic in the future. When and where it happens no one has the answer but the world is a much smaller place than it used to be – we can cross the globe in 24 hours. Viruses change and adapt all the time, coronavirus will change and there will be new variants. When it hits [the next pandemic] the learning we have acquired from tackling Covid-19 means we will be better prepared.’’

Kelly O’Neill, Public Health Director for Hounslow, answered questions from Rivers Academy students and provided guidance for their No Limits project

The ATL project saw students apply learning from a range of subject areas including Science, History and PHSE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic).

Prerna Patel, No Limits Curriculum Lead at Aspirations Academies Trust, told the Hounslow Herald: ‘‘It was wonderful to have Kellie and members of her team come in and speak to the students. 

‘‘A key aspect of the project was being able to engage with a real life role and so to have someone talking about it was fantastic.

‘‘The students have also looked back in time to the Black Death and also examined the role of John Snow who is considered one of the founders of modern epidemiology.

‘‘It’s likely this generation of students will experience another pandemic in their lifetime and they will be the problem solvers of the future.’’