Anyone in the NHS knows the value of our Clinical Support Workers, meet three making a real difference to people’s lives daily, & help us champion them today

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22–26 MINS

By Andrew Lovegrove | 4 February 2021

A Children’s Emergency Department Health Care Assistant, a Health Care Support Worker, and a Community Mental Health Support Worker are all finalists in this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards. Find out who will take home the national Clinical Support Worker of the Year crown by booking your free place at the March 23 virtual ceremony today.

The reason the NHS functions so well is effective teamwork. There are more than 350 careers in the NHS and over 40% of these are in supporting roles, both clinical and operational. Anyone working within the NHS will tell you that without our support workers, the compassion and care which millions of people receive from the NHS every day, simply could not be achieved. Every single member of the healthcare team plays a part in making a real difference to people’s lives.

As for the whole NHS workforce the last year has been like no other for those in clinical support roles, who continue to demonstrate their absolute commitment, determination, and skill in delivering exceptional care on the frontline. It is not surprising then, that the category in this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards which received the most nominations, was the Clinical Support Worker of the Year Award.

This year’s three Clinical Support Worker of the Year Award finalists are:

Claire Petford Norton has been a Health Care Assistant (HCA) in the Children’s Emergency Department (CED) at Milton Keynes University Hospital (MKUH) since the department first opened its doors many years ago.   She consistently goes above and beyond her job role to provide a high standard care. She frequently advises and supports members of the Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) by sharing her wealth of experience and knowledge.

Claire’s colleagues said: “Claire always has a smile on her face and is always there for everyone else; putting others needs first and truly deserves recognition. She is an exceptional HCA, amazing colleague, and fantastic advocate for the children. She is the face of CED and both staff and patients would be lost without her.”

Claire is trustworthy, hardworking, and reliable, with the ability to take accurate observations, recognise a sick child and initiate treatment when needed. One of her responsibilities is treating minor injuries. She is able to apply plaster casts and close wounds effectively on the most uncooperative and scared patients with care and compassion.

Improving children’s experience in hospital is important to Claire. She creates a welcoming, safe, and caring environment to help children and their families prepare for medical procedures, and frequently takes on the role of a play specialist to keep them calm and distracted throughout. Recently, during her own time, Claire has started a play specialist course, to help consolidate and enhance her knowledge to improve this support, and mentor peers to provide the same.

Claire has played a key role in making the department more child friendly and safe in these uncertain times. She has created a large visual display in the waiting room, showing patients the faces behind the masks. This enables children to see what staff normally look like, reducing anxiety. She has also created educational boards entitled ‘Snow white and the seven symptoms’, displaying information on signs and symptoms of different childhood illnesses in an interesting way. Claire said: “I think it is important to not only treat our patients but educate them on their health and wellbeing – this has led to me creating education boards throughout our paediatric area.” 

Being in hospital for special occasions can be a really difficult time for children and their families. Claire has taken on a leading role in ensuring the department is well prepared with extensive decoration, making it feel more welcoming and inviting. Claire also facilitates donations from several charities who generously donate to the CED, including teddy bears to give to distressed children whilst they receive treatment, and distraction boxes full of toys and activities.

Claire said: “Over my nine years of working in the Children’s Emergency Department, I have always believed that every patient and parent should feel comfortable in the hospital environment. This has led me to work with charities in my free time, including the fantastic company TLC. With the use of the teddy bears from TLC, I can show the patient and their parents how the next steps in their treatment will be carried out. I have also used my free time to gain knowledge on special needs, such as autism, to make children with special needs feel at ease when being treated.” 

The Trust said: “We are delighted that Claire’s work as part of Team MKUH has been recognised by winning a spot in the Our Health Heroes Awards Clinical Support Worker of the Year category. It is incredibly important to recognise the efforts of all staff, especially in this difficult period. We would encourage people to vote for Claire as she fully deserves national recognition for her tireless efforts to improve the service to patients and their parents in our Children’s Emergency Department.” 

On hearing of her shortlisting, Claire said: “I cannot express how grateful I am for this reward. To even be considered is great privilege. I would firstly like to thank my wonderful team for all their support, especially when they involve my weird and wonderful ideas, I truly believe they made me the HCA I am today. Secondly, I would like to thank my children, Megan, and Ben, for their support and understanding. Finally, I would like to also congratulate my fellow finalists and thank my wonderful team again for all their hard work.” 

As a Health Care Support Worker at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Eileen McCullough lives the Trust values of treating service users and staff alike with compassion, dignity, and respect. She always demonstrates a professional yet personable approach to every task and towards every person who attends the centre. She works daily to a high standard and is a role model for not only junior staff, but also those of professional seniority.

During the initial pandemic peak, Eileen was redeployed to help set up a COVID-19 testing centre for vulnerable mental health service users requiring direct physical interventions or assessment, who were isolated due to symptoms, or unable to receive home visits due to restrictions. The centre was also set up to address the fact that a quarter of the mental health workforce were absent and in need of COVID-19 testing.

At a time when little was known about the spread of the virus, Eileen demonstrated a fearless, positive, and admirable attitude to the task assigned. With a lead role in the procurement of the vital supplies required, she used all of her experience and knowledge of services to pre-empt problems and offer solutions. She was intuitively able to understand the needs of this new service and offered innovative ways of dealing with tasks. She identified the need for an outside assessment space, to afford service users and health professionals with a safe and private area to have the appropriate interventions carried out, whilst also providing reassurance that measures were being taken to keep everyone’s safety and comfort paramount.

Eileen said: “This award is a recognition of the work that we as Support Workers do. It recognises our place within the Healthcare team. The award tells me that the work I have done is valued and appreciated. I feel proud that the work I have done has been of a high enough standard to have been firstly nominated for this award, and secondly to have been selected as a finalist. Working throughout COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone, and we all have had to find a different way of working and being more creative in how we work with patients and with colleagues.”

When everyone at the Trust was feeling particularly vulnerable, Eileen’s calm and reassuring presence, and also for her ability to work effectively with peers across all disciplines and services was incredibly valuable. She decided to undertake an innovative approach to protecting staff outside of the workplace, taking it upon herself to acquire a sewing machine and make cloth masks, which she bought the material for, and distributed at her own personal expense. Eileen’s colleagues said: “Eileen is kindness personified. She is very, very much deserving of recognition for her tireless and enthusiastic approach to her work. She is our Healthcare Hero.”

Orla Tierney, Divisional Nurse – Mental Health, Specialist Hospitals and Women’s Health, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “As an organisation, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust are extremely proud, of and grateful for all of the staff who continue to deliver high standards of care for service users and patients, especially through such a difficult year. We share in Eileen’s delight at her nomination, which recognises her particular contribution in her role as a Support Worker and feel that this award will also buoy staff in similar roles; realising that the hard work of all staff is recognised, valued, and very much appreciated.

“We wish Eileen the best of luck for the final of these awards. She is, however, already a winner to us, and to everyone she has supported over the years with her naturally kind and compassionate nature. She is, quite simply fantastic and a wonderful example to us all of demonstrating a truly person-centred approach to care.”

Thomas Gregory-Smith has been incredibly consistent in providing a high standard of care and professionalism since joining the Older Adult Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, as a Support Worker in 2016.

In his role Tom works closely with Oxford Health’s care coordinators and supports adults of 65 years old and above to help them live fulfilling and independent lives. A typical day can include anything from a 10-15 minute welfare check by phone, to helping fill in a form for a bus pass, encouraging engagement and alleviating isolation, loneliness, and anxiety.

Tom said: “I have been drawn from a very young age to a vocation where care and compassion is paramount. Since becoming part of the CMHT in December 2016, I have been warmly welcomed and supported, allowing me to slot seamlessly into the team to affectively, and proactively, support their work.”

An important part of Tom’s role is to provide physical health checks for people with severe and enduring mental health problems; a group whose physical health outcomes and mortality rates are still amongst the worst in our society. Tom’s patient but persistent approach with some of the Trust’s ‘hardest to reach’ clients is impressively effective, in fact his caring and compassionate approach to all those who use the services is exemplary.

But Tom’s interventions are not limited to physical care. He is always thinking about the spiritual needs of patients. Using his own understanding of theology and his helpful link with Pastoral Care in the Trust, and the wider community. Tom is a strong advocate for his clients, who often suffer from severe and enduring mental health problems. His advocacy takes many forms but includes ensuring access to other health and community services for people with severe and enduring mental health problems.

Tom is an excellent team player. During the pandemic he has worked hard with Infection Control leads to ensure regular deliveries of necessary PPE. He has been flexible and proactive enough to physically source and deliver PPE when the system has lagged behind need. This has been much appreciated by colleagues. But his flexible support for the team has been even more longstanding than this.

Tom remains the only member of the team able to effectively support across several disciplines, supporting a wellbeing clinic in the morning, facilitating a music session at midday, and covering reception (in a very busy and often understaffed admin office) in the afternoon.

Daniel Mercer, Older Adult CMHT Manager, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “I nominated Tom after being inspired by his excellent, creative and tireless work in the team. Tom always makes himself available to support colleagues – everything from covering reception when the team is short-staffed to co-facilitating complex clinical interventions.

Tom added: “I have a strong passion for multidisciplinary team working to deliver excellent care for our service users and enjoy the challenges along with the variety of support required. I find this work to be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding and have grown in confidence to develop my working style.“

Tom is a talented musician and uses music in his therapeutic work. Though not a music therapist, he has been able to facilitate groups with a music theme and has been able to engage people on a one-to-one basis where their engagement with more traditional interventions has been limited. Tom said: “I have incorporated my lifelong love of music and violin playing to engage with service users, which has been widely appreciated, and use it to boost the morale of my colleagues too!”

Daniel added: “It has been a joy to see our service users benefiting from Tom’s psychospiritual work. Service users and colleagues alike have benefited from Tom’s musical abilities. It’s rare to see someone contribute to a team in such wonderfully varied ways. Tom is truly one of a kind and I’m delighted that he has been recognised by a national award. Well deserved!”

Tom has always been the strongest of role models for other support workers and newly qualified clinicians joining the Team. He is friendly, approachable, enthusiastic, and very client-focused in everything he does. His contributions to weekly multidisciplinary meetings are invaluable. Clinicians will often look to Tom’s guidance on matters relating to religion, spirituality, music, community resources, therapeutic groups or where there is a need to think outside of the big in order to engage a reluctant client. He is truly exceptional, and his consistent excellence should be recognized and celebrated.

Tom said: “I’m delighted to be a finalist in the Our Health Heroes Awards. This Clinical Support Worker of the Year Award will validate all the hard work both the team and I have done to improve the quality of life of those we support. It spurs me on to develop as a strong role model for our Trust and take leadership in innovative ways to provide holistic care for our service users. I am also proud to use this opportunity to highlight the ongoing need for integrated mental health support services in this country.”

Katrina Anderson, Service Director, Oxon and BSW Mental Health (Oxfordshire, Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon & Wiltshire Mental Health) said: “I am delighted and proud that Thomas has been shortlisted for this award. Mental health community support workers do incredible work to help our service users live independent and fulfilling lives. People like Thomas may work with a patient for a few weeks or for many years. During the coronavirus pandemic this work has been more challenging and important than ever. I hope this nomination shines a light on these professionals who are less known than doctors or nurses but whose work is a real lifeline for our service users.”

Voting has now closed for the UNISON Operational Services Support Worker of the Year category, winners will be announced at the Our Health Heroes Awards ceremony on March 23. The winner will be announced by Sara Gorton, Head of Health at UNISON.

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