19th October 2020 Written by Skills for Health

Christina OHH2019Nominations to pay tribute to our NHS, health and care support workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in 2020, with this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards, have recently closed.

However, as we look to recognise the incredible contribution from all of the people at the heart of our sector, particularly those often considered ‘behind the scenes’, we have taken the opportunity to catch-up with some of our previous winners. We want to learn of their opportunities, challenges, and changes to their role in 2020, as well as what words of wisdom they may have, not only for Our Health Heroes nominees and nominators, but anyone contemplating a perhaps lesser known career path, yet equally crucial role.

Nominated by her colleagues at Mountbatten Hospice on the Isle of Wight, Palliative Care Discharge Coordinator, Christina Ginsburg-Appleby was crowned 2019 national winner of the Outstanding Contribution category, sponsored by NHS Employers.

Liz Arnold, Director of Nursing, Mountbatten said:

“Christina’s passion and enthusiasm for her role is clear for all to see and is one of the reasons the role has been such a success. She works creatively and flexibly to ensure patients and families receive the very best outcomes possible and she always ‘goes the extra mile’.

“Christina’s motivation is driven by the fact that she cares that everyone gets the best from her, which in turn demands the best from others. Christina has an ability to form trusted relationships, working in partnership between hospital, hospice, and community settings, in addition to having a breadth of knowledge and dedication to improving the end of life care experience for people. She is able to articulate some very powerful stories in respect of the difference her role makes to people – patients, relatives and staff.”

Christina’s colleagues praise her as an inspiration, who makes the seemingly impossible, possible, and we couldn’t agree more. After an unprecedently challenging year for Palliative Care, we were keen to find out how Christina’s contribution has continued to make a vital difference for peers, patients, and their families in 2020.

How did being nominated for Our Health Heroes make you feel?

Very shocked – I deleted the first email thinking it was a scam! But then simply delighted, of course, and for the team I work with in the hospital and Mountbatten who employs me. The support from my colleagues in the Integrated Palliative and End of Life Care Team has allowed me to achieve some amazing things for patients. For example, escorting patients who are repatriated from the Isle of Wight.

How did you find the experience of the ceremony day itself and how did you feel when being recognised & celebrated as a national Award winner?

The day was fabulous! My husband (of less than a month) had booked a very swish hotel for us to stay in and my son joined us for the ceremony. The venue was splendid – the views from the top of the Science Museum were clear and far reaching over London.

The atmosphere was friendly with much laughter and people were clearly enjoying being there. The stories of the award winners were astonishing – and very emotive. My category for Outstanding Contribution was the last on the programme, and I was one of three candidates. The results were announced for bronze and silver – my name was not called. The sudden realisation I had won gold, was unbelievable and very emotional.

My son took a video of me receiving the award, and it was not until I played it later, that I realised he and my husband stood up as I walked to the stage, followed by the rest of the room in a standing ovation – it was just overwhelming.

How did your organisation and colleagues react to your Our Health Heroes Award?

The CEO at Mountbatten, Nigel Hartley, and Liz Arnold, Director of Nursing, were at the Hospice UK conference on the day of the Awards ceremony and were following the proceedings on Twitter. Both were delighted. Liz was responsible for nominating me. They returned from the conference two days later and I surprised them as they arrived at Mountbatten, and we placed the award in our display cabinet at the hospice.

The team I work with were also thrilled for me personally but also because it highlights the value of the service we provide.

Did your Our Health Heroes experience impact on your work journey, or role since?

The entire Isle of Wight noticed! There was much local publicity about the Award and people would come up to me telling me they had voted for me. I received many lovely cards and letters from people congratulating me on winning.

The positive comments from families I had been involved with were overwhelming – people took the trouble to contact me, often when their loved ones had recently died.

How & why did you initially get into your current role?

I have been in my current post since September 2017. My previous role involved setting up a Care at Home team at the hospice to provide domiciliary care for people discharged from hospital to home.

The opportunity arose to apply for this post – initially a secondment to rapidly discharge patients approaching end of life. The care of these patients would be provided by the hospice Care at Home team. It was a great opportunity to pioneer rapid discharges, and as a methodical person, it suited my style of working.

What education and training did you receive prior to starting your current role?

As a community palliative care nurse, I was able to identify a good hospital discharge, so I was able to build on that knowledge. Yet, I often feel the success of my role is not about what I know but what I don’t know. This means I can ask questions such as ‘why can’t we…’, or ‘how about we try…’.

I have learnt along the way what works well.

What does a typical day at work entail for you?

I start work at 8am and firstly look at the new referrals, then check on any imminent discharges, with all patients reviewed before discharge. Every day is different, and each discharge brings its own challenges, but I love the variety, the problem solving and making it happen!

I attend handover with the rest of the team, then walk the wards, carrying a bleep. It’s important to be visible, and I’m often asked to help with issues outside of my remit and make every effort to support others.

What has is the hardest part of your job?

People dying before I can arrange their discharge from hospital and therefore not dying in their preferred place.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

Making things happen quickly for people who do not have a lot of time.

How has your role changed as a result of COVID-19?

Well firstly, it certainly increased my hours!

During the pandemic I used my knowledge and skills to assist with all discharges, in order to discharge people from hospital. This was welcomed, and strong links with the wider hospital and community were quickly formed.

At this time it was impossible for staff from nursing and residential homes to come into the hospital to assess patients to ensure their needs could be met, so I was able to assess them myself and complete telephone handovers to expedite discharges.

Both my team colleagues and I stepped up the way we communicated with others. Difficult conversations would normally take place face to face, and instead this had to be completed on the telephone. We became messengers for patients and relatives, as there was no visiting and we supported people in their isolation.

How will your COVID-19 experiences impact your future path of work?

The bonds formed with colleagues within the hospital during this time were incredibly tight, and it is clear that building on. and strengthening these will be vitally beneficial to our work.

Furthermore, we have learned a lot more about the importance of being aware of people’s anxieties, acknowledging this and how we can better support them.

What do you hope to do next?

I look forward to continuing to enjoy my work in my current position, as I’ve always maintained this role has the very best of me.

Why would you encourage others to nominate colleagues as Our Health Heroes?

Our Health Heroes is a great opportunity to showcase the excellent work, positive and innovative stories about patient care and experiences that happens across the entire NHS - hospitals, hospices and in the community.

The Outstanding Contribution Award, sponsored for the second year running by NHS Employers, celebrates our people who truly go above and beyond for the benefit of patient care and service delivery. Those whose support for peers and colleagues is unwavering, making an outstanding difference not only to the immediate care of individuals but also to the wider healthcare sector.

Watch this space for the shortlist and the public vote in January 2021.