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Our Health Heroes celebrates the overlooked workers in the sector

Sacha Rowlands, NHE’s London correspondent, reports from this year’s iteration of the Our Health Heroes awards, which seeks to give due recognition to the countless support staff that work tirelessly to keep the wheels of the healthcare system turning.

The function room in London’s iconic OXO tower is filled with a suited and booted crowd, sipping on champagne and chatting happily. Yet the guests of honour here aren’t trust executives or healthcare chiefs, but the people that keep the wheels of our health system turning each day. They are our healthcare assistants, our porters, our social workers, our domestic assistants and our secretaries.

Slowly the guests start making their way into the dining room, where elegantly laid tables await them. I’m lucky enough to be sat beside a nominee for the Apprentice of the Year Award, who modestly tells me that he doesn’t understand why he’s been nominated and that he definitely won’t win. The funding for his role in sexual health was pulled three months after he started it, and so he was redeployed within the service and found his feet whilst staff numbers around him reduced. Despite this, he helped to develop the service, particularly outreach. He can reel off facts and figures around BAME engagement with sexual health services and infection rates in his area, and is formulating plans to improve BAME access to services. I’m thrilled when he wins a bronze award. So is his mum.

This is just one of the amazing stories of frontline staff who really make a difference to service users.

John Rogers, chief executive of Skills for Health, organisers of the event, welcomes Our Health Heroes’ guests and explains why we have gathered together. We’re celebrating the 1,000,000-strong workforce who delivers our services, often without thanks, without gratitude and without recognition. He tells us: “Without the people in this room today the health service would just grind to a halt, and we all know that, and therefore this is a big, big thank you to you all” – which is met with rapturous applause from the crowd.

20171121 350 HeroesJohn Rogers with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP and National Skills Academy for Health director Candace Miller

Next up is Sir Keith Pearson, chair of Health Education England who wishes the nominees the best of luck, and introduces the host of the awards, actress, supporter of Children with Cancer and patron for HIV charity Mildmay, Linda Robson.

Almost 1,000 nominations have been painstakingly whittled down to just 33 winners – a process which Rogers, one of the judges, emphasises was not without great difficulty, with so many stories of exceptional people. The presentations kick off with regional winners for Clinical Support Worker of the Year and Operational Support Worker of the Year awards.

There’s then an interlude for guests to enjoy a well-earned afternoon tea and more fizz, during which Robson obliges requests for photos and autographs before rushing off to another commitment.

Catching up with Rogers, he tells NHE why this particular awards ceremony is so important. “What this is about is celebrating the staff who often get overlooked in terms of thanks and recognition for what they do,” he said.

“I think it’s just wonderful – you can see people in terms of their achievements and actually say thank you, so it’s just great for us to do.”

The ceremony restarts with the national winners for Operational Support Worker of the Year and Clinical Support Worker of the Year, Apprentice of the Year, Workforce Planning Team of the Year and Integrated Team of the Year award winners.

Story after story of commitment and innovation is awe-inspiring: staff who buy birthday presents for their patients, collect their prescriptions, sing to them, introduce innovative ideas to improve patient safety. Going “above and beyond” is a phrase that’s used again and again to describe them, and many of them frequently do things for their patients in their own time – a testament to their commitment to improving the lives of others.

The ceremony is closed by the beautiful and captivating sounds of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, who topped the charts to become last year’s Christmas #1 with ‘A Bridge Over You,’ and donate proceeds from their music to Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust’s charitable funds – yet another example of frontline staff going one step further to help the NHS and those who use it, and a perfect way to end an inspiring afternoon.

20171121 180 Heroes

About the national winners

  • Clinical Support Worker of the Year: John Clifford, physiotherapy technical instructor, Neath Port Talbot Hospital

Clifford was a coal miner in South Wales until the closure of his mine prompted him to pursue his interest in working with disabled children. Starting at Neath Port Talbot Hospital in 1994, John has become an extremely popular staff member with patients and their families and was put forward for always going above and beyond the call of duty to provide exceptional patient care. His fun and friendly approach to work hasn’t gone unnoticed and he is hugely valued by his team.

  • Operational Services Support Worker of the Year: Paul Tobin, general porter, St. James’ Hospital, Leeds

Tobin works tirelessly to improve experience for patients and is the creator of the nation’s first Portering Safety Huddles – small meetings to discuss safety problems. He recognises the importance of his role and educates other porters by working closely with clinical areas and giving guest talks. He goes the extra mile every day, giving up his own time to make things even better at St. James Hospital.

  • Apprentice of the Year: Andrew Gunn, apprentice business support executive in marketing, The Edinburgh Clinic

Gunn joined The Edinburgh Clinic as an apprentice in 2014 at the age of 17 and since then has taken a hands-on approach to his role, becoming a highly valued member of the team. He was nominated for Apprentice of the Year for his eagerness to learn new skills and his confidence in working with consultants and stakeholders. Gunn has organised staff charity runs, coffee mornings and fundraisers, as well as project-managing the clinic’s annual Highland Games.

  • Integrated Team of the Year: Prison Healthcare Team, Lisburn, Northern Ireland

The Prison Healthcare Team was chosen as the national winner of Integrated Team of the Year for their outstanding commitment to compassionate care. The team has made exceptional progress with a series of initiatives, including creating partnerships with universities to improve sexual health services, bringing together healthcare, prison staff and clinical specialists from across the UK to share best practice on self-harm and end-of-life care and launching a prisoner choir to improve mental health. The Prison Healthcare team has integrated fully, defeated the odds and made significant improvements for their patients.

  • Gold Workforce Planning Team of the Year: Doctors’ Assistant Team, East Sussex NHS Trust

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust created the new role of doctors’ assistant to help alleviate workloads and take on administrative work. The benefits have been integral to the trust, which has now taken on a team of six doctor assistants, with doctors reporting a far greater likelihood of them attending teaching, operating and clinic sessions. The trust has developed three themes as vital for success: clear line management, good communication and defined role boundaries. The role has now been introduced to 12 other interested trusts and the model has been presented at national and regional events.

  • Silver Workforce Planning Team of the Year: The Practice Education Team, Royal Bournemouth Hospital

Royal Bournemouth Hospital has 17 operating theatres with 220 people in theatres and recovery. The Practice Education Team work tirelessly with clinical leaders to make sure their staff are supported and are able to work to a competent, high standard. In the last two years the impact of the team has been apparent, with staff retention improving and members reporting better experiences at work. The trust ranked second in the NHS Staff Survey in 2016 in terms of how staff feel about the leadership and culture of their trust.

  • Bronze Workforce Planning Team of the Year: GP Team, Carlisle

Made up of clinical and non-clinical staff members from three GP practices, the team serves 36,000 patients over five sites. By merging practices, the team could assess the challenges and face them collectively, appreciate common issues and work through joint solutions. The team have introduced a consistent approach through innovative and systematic solutions. They have shown it is possible to increase capacity, improve the skill mix and define a sustainable working model capable of delivering high-quality patient care by working together.

20171121 009 Heroes


Amanda B.   30/11/2017 at 09:41

I am so proud of my brother in law, Paul Tobin, such a great achievement from a simple idea.

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