NHS support staff work tirelessly throughout the health service to clean wards, maintain vital equipment, order medical supplies, book appointments and cook meals – all to ensure that patients get the care they need.
UNISON member Caroline Corbin is a switchboard operator at Salisbury District Hospital. She works in a team of six, which she describes as “the hub of the hospital wheel that keeps all other departments going”.
Caroline says: “The majority of calls to the hospital come through us and then we fire them off where they need to go.
“People call us about their appointments, and relatives ring up to speak to loved ones on wards and we have to track them down within the hospital.
“If emergencies happen within the hospital, we’re the ones who send out the message for where the doctors need to go to.”
More than just answering the phone
Caroline’s job features late-evening shift patterns where there’s slightly more responsibility and lone working. “At night, we cover a lot more than in the day. We’re the ones that people report faults to, like ceiling leaks or mechanical failures.
“We also sort the hospital accommodation, giving keys to doctors staying overnight and registering family members and visitors to stay in hospital bungalows. People will also bring their telephones down if they break and we’ve got the spare parts.”
In short, Caroline’s team cover anything and everything on the hospital site. “People call us up and say, ‘We know you’ll know the answer, because you know everything’.”
Throughout COVID-19, she’s had to rapidly adapt to changes in hospital procedure and the movement of departments to separate COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 parts of the hospital. She’s kept going into her hospital office throughout the pandemic, despite the option for remote working.
“It can be a stressful job, and you really do need to have a sense of being in a team. When you’re lone working through the night, you’ve got to be able to rely on the person you’ve taken over from to give you the adequate information.
“My team is quirky, and there’s six of us on rotation. Sometimes I don’t see a colleague for two or three weeks, but there’s still a real family feeling. We’re a strong team together, and I love working here. The spirit is great.”
There’s no i in team
Caroline feels strongly about UNISON’s One Team campaign: “If you work in the NHS, it doesn’t matter if you sweep floors or you’re a surgeon. Everyone has a role in what happens.
“For example, when an emergency in the hospital happens, like a heart attack, it’s the switchboard who co-ordinate a message within the hospital and tell people where to go. Then we also deal with the relatives who are ringing up about the emergency.
“Every day I’m proud of at least one thing I’ve done. And no two days are ever the same. It’s a totally unpredictable job, and sometimes there’ll be a slow day, and others there’s a shift where you just don’t stop at all.”
Essential workers like Caroline keep the NHS running as One Team. UNISON is proud to represent them, and proud of the important role they all play in patient care.