Looking after the people who matter
SELECT Member firm Panacea had been in business less than a year when the lockdown hit but has managed to thrive despite the pandemic, including taking on two major projects at Ninewells Hospital
When Billy Hosie set up Panacea in June 2019, he started the business with just £5,000 and a van. Two years – and one pandemic – later, the Dundee-based firm employs 29 people and is about to open a second site in Livingston.
The company was launched with the aim of providing jobs for workers left unemployed when a large local contractor went into administration.
Since then, it’s continued to grow and Managing Director Billy has never lost sight of the importance of looking after the people who make up the business.
He said: “We wanted to give people a job and soften the blow of the administration and it just took off from day one. We’re in our second year but it’s probably year five of our business plan.
“We have a family atmosphere which is really important to me. My dad worked for an American company and they were really good at not just looking after their employees, but also their families. That’s part of our ethos too.”
Chance for change
Panacea works across three main areas: data and fibre, aid call and warden call systems, and fire and security. The team carry out projects all over Scotland at sites including schools, recycling plants and medical facilities, and are also involved in the roll-out of the 5G network in Aberdeen and Perth.
Like many businesses, Panacea was forced to reassess how it worked when the pandemic hit. The company used it as an opportunity to examine their next steps – including joining SELECT.
Billy said: “You can never prepare for something like COVID and we were lucky that some of the contracts we were on were either classed as essential or main infrastructure.
“It allowed us to look at where we were going as a business and what areas we could tighten up in, and allowed us to get a lot of processes put in place. We got our BAFE accreditation, our SSAIB accreditation for fire and security, and we also did our SELECT membership.
“You can never prepare for something like COVID and we were lucky that some of the contracts we were on were either classed as essential or main infrastructure”
“Although we’re not an electrical company, it’s important that we have 18th Edition sparks on our books. It gives the client confidence that we have the ability to meet and maintain the standards set by SELECT.
“It also gives us access to ongoing training we can use to keep everyone
up to date with regulations and best practice. For us, being involved with SELECT was a no-brainer.”
Delivering the best
The first lockdown coincided with a major project for Panacea – installing the data infrastructure for the new neonatal intensive care ward at Ninewells Hospital.
Suddenly the team were forced to rapidly adjust to the health and safety demands of the new COVID restrictions, as well as the psychological toll of working so close to where people were losing their lives from the virus.
For Billy, it was a project with even more emotional significance, after suffering his own family tragedy at the same hospital department. His personal experience made him determined to deliver the very best for other families facing the same anguish. He said: “That job was close to my heart because I had lost my son there ten years earlier.
It brought a lot of hard memories back.
“It made it even more important for us to deliver something and deliver it well. The facilities we had when we lost our son were good at the time, but having seen the new ward, I know how fantastic they are now. When families are going through the hardest time, they’ll have a few home-from-home comforts.
“When you have a child who’s ill, you don’t think of anything other than what’s happening in your bubble. But we’re not the only people to have suffered that. There’s more than just me and my wife who went through that and that’s what spurred us on to deliver a service that was second to none.
“We do our best for every project but this has special meaning. The drive was to deliver something spectacular for NHS Tayside.”
A new mindset
The Panacea workers at the Dundee hospital had to quickly get used to the demands of social distancing and PPE. But Billy admits that wasn’t the greatest challenge they faced.
“The biggest thing we had to bring in was the new thought process,” he said. “It was trying to drum into everyone that they had to travel to the site in separate vans, not work within 2m of each other and wear masks all the time. “We had to wear gloves under gloves and had supplies of sanitiser for everyone.
“The guidance from our partners, Taylor and Fraser, and the main contractor, Balfour Beatty, was excellent. The regulations they put in were first class and made our job easier.”
“Things happen in life that make you readjust but if you treat everyone with humility and kindness, you’ll get that back tenfold”
As lockdown went on and the COVID death toll continued to rise, Billy made his sure team’s mental health was a priority. Working in a hospital added to the stress the engineers felt and they were also worried about the risk of passing COVID to their families.
Regular check-ins with workers helped monitor how they were feeling and staff were encouraged to take time off if they needed it.
Billy said: “We had someone come in on a regular basis and speak to them about their mental health – how they were feeling, not anything to do with the job but how their family was, if there was anything we could do to help. Only after that would we move on to the job. It was mental and physical health first.
“The biggest worry was that you were in an environment where you didn’t know how COVID was transmitted. You were in a hospital and while the area you were in might not have COVID, we knew that there were people dying of it in that hospital. All of that placed an extra strain on the engineers. We made sure we spoke to them on a regular basis to find out how they were feeling and address their concerns.
“As well as dealing with it in work, when you left you went into a world that had totally changed. That’s where the psychological element comes in to it because there’s no escape. When they got home, the engineers were double-bagging their work clothes at the front door and putting them straight into the washing machine so there was no contamination within the house.
“They were more concerned about transference to families rather than getting it themselves.
“Mentally it was very hard for them and there were a couple of times when we lessened the amount of work we were doing, just to take the pressure off. We also made sure we gave them extra uniform and extra time for all the cleaning and other precautions.”
Pride and emotion
Despite the pressures of COVID, the neonatal ward installation was completed on time and on budget.
It was an emotional moment when the Panacea team finished their work there just before Christmas. Billy said: “There was a lot of pride and a few tears. It’s fantastic to see it finished. When families are in that terrible position in that terrible time in their lives, they have world-class facilities to give them a little bit of comfort. It was worth all the lockdown stresses.”
As well as working on the neonatal ward, Billy’s engineers are also carrying out another full fibre installation at the hospital’s children’s operating theatre.
The company believes in training engineers so they’re skilled in multiple disciplines and this approach was key during the Ninewells work. It meant they could rotate workers between the two sites and give them breaks to help their mental health.
Restart and recovery
None of Panacea’s engineers contracted COVID but as lockdown measures ease, Billy knows they can’t be complacent.
“Things are starting to move but it still feels strange,” he said. “We’re obviously delighted that no one in the company has become unwell because of COVID but we’re acutely aware of the people in the area who have lost their lives. We’re also thankful that we have a business to come back to once the pandemic is over with and we can become stronger. But our thoughts are definitely with everyone who has had to endure the last year, whether they’ve been in business or not. It’s been very stressful.”
While work at the hospital has kept the team busy, some of their other projects have been put on hold by the pandemic. The firm fits around 100 Aid Call systems each year to help elderly and vulnerable people but have had to wait until the customers have had both their vaccine injections before they can continue. It means they’ll now have to fit a year’s worth of work into nine months, but Billy isn’t daunted by the challenge and has planned for the tighter schedule.
Looking to the future, he’s optimistic about what lies ahead for the company. He said: “We’re really excited. All three areas we work in are strong and I’d expect us to double our turnover this year. It means we’re profitable and we can also look after everyone.
“We don’t want to get so big that people become stressed because they’re being pushed too hard.
“We’ve got a lot of work lined up in the health industry and you can see that things are starting to pick up again. Our new office will also help us to service more areas and give us a good foothold throughout Scotland.
“Things happen in life that make you readjust but if you treat everyone with humility and kindness, you’ll get that back tenfold. That’s what we do here.
“It’s not always easy to make sure we keep everyone happy but we try our hardest.
“Our staff get approached by other companies but they tell them they’re happy where they are and I think that says a lot.
“Everyone gets a Christmas night out and their partners get a gift voucher too. They’re just as important as the engineers. We know their kids’ names, they all get an egg from us at Easter, and we have a staff barbecue in summer. It all makes people feel like they’re part of the family and that they’re an individual, not a number.