Bottom-up support for the frontline - RSA

Bottom-up support for the frontline


  • Picture of Katz Kiely FRSA
    Katz Kiely FRSA
  • Enterprise
  • Public Services & Communities
  • Public services

When centralised NHS procurement models struggled to meet personal protection equipment (PPE) demand in the first Covid-19 spike, volunteer organisations sprang up to bridge the gaps. As healthcare workers in hospitals and care homes feel the fear again, Katz Kiely FRSA shares how organisations are collaborating to make sure that frontline health care workers have the protective equipment they need to stay safe.

There were over 25,000 mentions of PPE shortages on Twitter in March. Hundreds of entrepreneurs, medics and volunteers were messaging too; horrified by what they saw and wanting to help by raising money to buy PPE, or pivoting to manufacture PPE. But they had no way of finding the people in need.

Something wasn’t working. Traditional procurement frameworks are not designed for unexpected and accelerating crises. People on the frontline were risking their lives and healthcare workers started to die; according to Amnesty 540 health and social care workers died in the UK between 9 March and 25 May 2020.  

Something had to happen and much like the little ships of Dunkirk, something did; Front-line Live is one of the many, many volunteer-run projects that emerged to find solutions.

A rapid response platform

By pulling together companies and volunteers: digital entrepreneurs, creatives and developers, we built Frontline.Live and – as far as we know – this is the world’s first national online map of real time PPE needs identified by frontline healthcare workers with a database of non-traditional suppliers that could help.

The matching platform was built and launched in less than four weeks. Healthcare workers can either tweet their need using the hashtag #frontlinemap or use a form if they preferred to report shortages anonymously. Over the 10 weeks of the first spike, over 1400 requests were submitted and mapped so suppliers could see where they were and get them the PPE they needed and fast. The project was supported by the Times, the Sun, Snapchat, Ocean Outdoor, Microsoft and many more. Frontline.Live is an open source rapid response platform that could be used in any crisis; when people on the frontline run short of vital equipment, so that non-traditional suppliers can respond quickly to their needs. 

An ecosystem of other volunteer organisations including Med Supply Drive,,, CareGiven, Scrub and Face Protection Hub, LetsBeatCOVID and NHS Hero Support were able to distribute nearly 500,000 items of PPE during the first wave.

Frontline.Live has now achieved charity status and we intend to use the platform to provide data and comms to this wide ecosystem of partners who have PPE to donate as well as to journalists and decisions makers who want access to live, transparent data.

Understanding the level of need

The spike is rising again and the pressure is on. NHS procurement frameworks can cope with the bulk of the crisis but it is not built for speed. People, teams, departments, care homes and others can fall through the cracks. 

Government messaging leads us to believe PPE shortages will not be an issue this time around. But just to make sure, we launched a survey to see what people on the frontline – those who really know what’s happening – think. Initial results raise real concern. As a record breaking number of Covid-19 patients are admitted to hospitals, only 8% of the doctors, nurses and care workers who completed the survey are confident they will get the PPE they need in the coming months. The majority are scared they will not. Frontline.Live and our partners are ready to jump in when gaps appear. 

We need your help 

There are three ways you can help.

First, we need to let frontline health care workers know we are here for them and that we can respond quickly. By sharing the Frontline.Live website and social media with any and all frontline health care workers you know - you can be part of the solution.

Second, please help us generate more data to get a better understanding of what is happening across the country by sharing our survey with your networks.

Third, as a volunteer-run organisation, we need to find the right partners to help us become more sustainable. By working together we can make it through this crisis and work to ensure that our friends, family and colleagues on the frontline are able to stay safe thanks to a consistent supply of vital PPE.


Katz is the Chair of Trustees for Frontline Live and CEO of beep; a decentralised platform that empowers employees and drives continuous improvement. She is a digital pioneer and serial entrepreneur who has led transformation and culture change in some of the world’s most complex and risk averse organisations, including the UN. If you want to find out more about how you or your organisation can support the Frontline Live Charity please email [email protected] or go to:

Website -

Twitter - @FrontlineMap

Instagram - @FrontlineMap

Facebook - @FrontLineMap

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