“I am proud of my military service, and I am equally proud of the men and women that serve their country today” – Meet Tom Jacques
Ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday 24 June, deputy director of Infection Prevention & Control, Tom Jacques talks about his extensive career in Infection Prevention & Control both in the British Army and now for the NHS.
What is your role at the Trust?
I have been in post a relatively short time; I joined the Trust in November 2022 as the deputy director of Infection Prevention & Control (DDIPC).
I love the variety that the job offers, working across the entirety of the three acute sites, but also our outlying areas and satellite units. I get to meet and work with some extremely talented and hugely motivated people across all our services and enjoy learning from them almost every day. I also enjoy the challenge of leading the IPC program and the pressure of being a key decision maker.
Our CEO, Professor Tim Orchard, has said himself that as a Trust we provide first-class care, delivered by first-class staff, in an ever-deteriorating estate. I don’t think it’s well understood how deeply entrenched IPC services are in the management of environmental issues and how much we do as a team to ensure our patients are cared for safely. We work ‘hand in glove’ with estates and facilities colleagues, often tackling extremely complex problems whilst trying to limit operational disruption to services and delivering value in the solutions we find.
Tell us about your journey before coming to the Trust.
I joined the British Army as a soldier aged 17. After three years in the infantry, I decided that I wanted to further my education. I retook the GCSEs (that I had failed so miserably at school), went on to complete 4 A levels and eventually applied for a Nursing degree. I had no idea what Nursing really involved when my Company Sergeant Major pushed me towards it, but I threw myself into it; and I’m so glad I did. I studied Nursing at Portsmouth University and I became a Registered Nurse in September 2000.
I spent the next 17 years in the British Army’s Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). During my time in the military, I was deployed on a number of operational tours including to Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Oman and Sierra Leone.
In Oman, I supported an armoured exercise of 40,000 troops and from there I went directly to Afghanistan - only 3 months after the planes had hit the twin towers. I was one of the first British soldiers in Afghanistan. I stayed for almost a year before going to Kuwait to support with the insertion operation to southern Iraq in 2003. I helped set up the field hospital and did two operational tours back-to-back. In 2005 I was posted to Cyprus and spent two and a half years working with the United Nations on the ‘green line’ between Southern and Northern Cyprus, which included medical cover to multinational soldiers and looking after British forces families. From Cyprus I returned to Afghanistan twice and I supported the evacuation of British citizens from Lebanon back to Cyprus in 2006.
In 2007, I decided I wanted to specialise in Infection Prevention & Control Nursing, which is so valuable to military healthcare. At the time, diarrhoea & vomiting plagued the military on operations – if there is an outbreak of D&V, soldiers become operationally ineffective, which can be extremely dangerous. The Army’s policy at the time meant that you couldn’t be an IPC Nurse unless you were a commissioned officer. I successfully applied, and was selected for officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2009.
My last post in the British Army was as the Senior Nurse for IPC and my last operational tour was to Sierra Leone, helping to tackle the Ebola crisis during the initial epidemic, and then preparing the Sierra Leonean military for future outbreaks.
Since leaving the Army, I have had several IPC roles in the NHS, including leading the COVID response in my former Trust. I have always liked the idea of working in central London, where I knew I would be most challenged and learn the most. I knew my current role would be perfect for me.
How did you find the move from army to NHS?
It required a real change of mindset and adapting to a new routine. A military career is your life, 24/7, whereas there is a more structured start and end to each day in the NHS (sometimes!). However, it helped that the NHS and the military have a shared set of values in terms of people’s dedication, devotion and sense of service. I found this easy to relate to.
A lot of my job now is not ‘on the ground’, but making sure that we provide the service that our patients deserve with the resources we have available to us. Although I was a senior member of the military, my current role carries far greater responsibility. There were approximately 1,200 nurses and healthcare assistants in the whole of the Army compared to the 14.5K staff at Imperial College Healthcare.
Saturday 24 June is Armed Forces Day. Are there any messages you’d like to share?
There is a big armed forces community at the Trust, and although we have left uniformed service, we are still part of something together. Shared experiences with ex-military colleagues are hard to explain sometimes to others, and some of the time it is easier to not have to explain these things at all. If you don’t want to talk about your military service, other veterans just ‘know’ because they have been there too. It is not an exclusive club, but rather a community that has an unspoken mutual understanding. I don’t often speak of operational military service, not because I’m damaged or vulnerable, I enjoyed it all, but I have moved on to the next chapter now and have some amazing memories. That is enough.
Our Armed Forces are undoubtedly the most professional fighting force in the world. They work every bit as hard and are under just as much pressure as we are in the NHS. They operate under the same constraints we do, and never more so than in the world we currently inhabit. There are shared values across the NHS and military, and that is why many ex-servicemen and women go into fields such as the NHS, the police, and the fire service.
I am proud of my military service and I am equally proud of the men and women that continue to serve their country so well today.
Imperial College Healthcare hosts Op RESTORE (formerly Veterans Trauma Network), an NHS service which provides clinical and welfare support to veterans in England. Why are dedicated services important?
Some veterans really struggle with ex-military life, and this is one of the reasons why we see veterans on the streets and such high suicide rates. Veterans are also vulnerable when they leave the military as their medical needs were previously catered for so it can be overwhelming to know where to turn to for physical and mental support.
Dedicated healthcare services for veterans are important in providing that extra bit of support to help ex-military assimilate into civilian life, while being respectful of the unique experiences they have been through. We must work together to banish the stigma of asking for help.
- Imperial College Healthcare hosts Op RESTORE, an NHS service (previously known as VTN) which can support you if you have served in the UK Armed Forces and, as a result of your Service, have a physical illness or injury. Your GP can refer you to this service. Find out more services for the armed forces community.