Our Health Heroes moment – spend 5 minutes with 2019 Operational Services Support Worker winner Helen Lumber

Image: Operational Services Support Worker winner Helen Lumber
12–15 MINS

By Andrew Lovegrove | 19 October 2020

Nominations 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.

Crowned Regional Winner for Wales, in the 2019 Operational Services Support Worker of the Year category, Helen Lumber, Business Administration Manager and Project Manager at the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, was nominated in her then role as Personal Assistant to the Assistant Director of Paramedicine.

Andy Swinburn, now Associate Director of Paramedicine and Helen’s line manager said: “This is a richly deserved award for a valuable member of the Medical and Clinical Services Directorate. Helen plays an integral role in the running of the Directorate and her input and contribution benefits us all, ensuring our continued success and wider benefits to patient care. She is extremely hard-working, demonstrating the highest levels of motivation and dedication every single day and inspires her team in her wake. She deserves to win the award in every way.”

Almost a year later, we’re inspired to learn of Helen’s Our Health Heroes journey, doing what she loves most.

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

Completely overwhelmed. Corporate staff are very much hidden in the background and often not recognised for their work, as others do not see how much work is involved. Hopefully, by winning the regional award, I have raised the profile that corporate staff CAN win awards and CAN have their work recognised.

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

Amazing! To be fortunate to be able to travel to London and have the day there amongst so many health heroes was amazing, and for getting Wales on the map! Seeing my picture with the other winners on the big screen in Waterloo Station at the end of the event was the best!

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

They were so proud of me. My Twitter feed went a bit crazy but as I work in a clinical setting, it was so nice to be recognised as a non-clinician.

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

I was never going to be able to afford to go to university and the pressure to pass a degree in full-time study was not how I would learn best. So, I decided to go to college, and gain a full-time job where I could utilise the skills I had learnt and work my way up within the business administration profession.

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

In my current organisation, where I have worked for 13 years, I continue to have been extremely lucky to be well supported by the Directorate I work in and the leadership, encouragement and support I am given by my line manager and colleagues.

I always want to learn or undertake new things and push myself at least once a year when it comes to new skills or qualifications. I feel that work-based learning suits my needs better and I always try to encourage others by sharing learning and knowledge by trying to make it fun. I have been fortunate enough to undertake my level 3 and 4 NVQs in Business Administration, my ILM level 5 in Leadership and Management, the Edward Jenner Leadership Programme, my Prince 2 Project Management, and who knows what else is out there for me.

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

Yes, I and some senior corporate staff are always encouraging corporate staff to praise colleagues by recognising each other’s contributions and raising our profile across the organisation.

It has given me the belief in myself to further my education, and at the age of 40, to enrol in a project management career path, together with expanding my qualifications into ILM Level 5 in Leadership and Management, which may open up opportunities for a Masters. This makes me twitch at the thought right now, but that would never have been on my radar before.

Furthermore, some junior colleagues now come to me and say their managers have refused their development requests. Some will give a reason that is helpful, and others will just close them down. So, I do feel I have to keep giving my advice of never giving up. Find another way. Find someone who has undertaken that development and gain feedback from their improved skills that can be relayed to your managers to help with the argument. If that fails, and you feel passionate enough, then undertake it in your own time, as learning should be fun.

What does a typical day at work entail for you?

Every day is different, whether I’m providing leadership and management to the Business Administration Team, managing risk, supporting my Directors with their decision-making, creating policies and procedures, providing mentorship, rolling out basic life support training to all corporate staff within the organisation, being the first corporate member of staff to introduce apprentices in business administration and attending and chairing my own meetings.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Currently, it is working from home as I am a people person and I worry a little that virtual support and guidance can be different. Sometimes a hug is needed but I am unable to do that if a colleague is feeling down.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I love learning and helping people. I am incredibly lucky to get up every morning and get paid for working for this organisation and love doing what I do. My Directorate are very much my work family and I honestly mean that. Their doors, even if they are only virtual at the moment, are always open and my opinion is always asked, whether it has an impact on me or not, which is the best compliment.

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

Significantly. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the Trust has had to support the organisation in more, or alternative ways, and that includes me. My new Business Administration Team was redeployed from their roles to support the organisation, on a six-month temporary basis, during the worst part of the pandemic. I was then left to support the business, management, and systems element of my directorates.

I am currently undertaking a full-time Business Administration Manager role, overseeing the business of my Directorate, and supervising the Business Administration Team. Additionally, I have stepped into my first formal project manager role, implementing, and embedding the rollout of a new controlled drugs system across Wales, for over 1000 emergency medical service users.

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

It has been the best learning experience for us all, as it has tested our abilities, strengths, friendships, and experience, to be the best we can be. It has taught me not to doubt myself, or my abilities, and that I will never be afraid to try anything new, as I don’t want to look back with regret for not giving something a go.

What do you hope to do next?

Continue to support my Directorate from a business management perspective and leading by example where I am able too.

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

Our Health Heroes recognises reliable and hardworking individuals who are often forgotten about, yet who are caring and compassionate to those they support and work with. They have a positive attitude and willingness to embrace innovation and change and want to lead by example.

The Operational Services Support Worker of the Year Award, sponsored by UNISON, celebrates all those providing the vital operational support services to keep our NHS people, systems and processes running, delivering crucial care for colleagues, patients, and service users.

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

Andrew Lovegrove is a Senior Consultant here at Skills for Health, and as a former Nurse, has worked in and with the healthcare sector for over 20 years. As a specialist in strategic workforce planning and the Six Step Methodology, Andrew has helped hundreds of NHS and healthcare employers improve patient care through effective workforce development programmes. Andrew regularly speaks at national healthcare events to support the sector and help build a better healthcare service for the future.


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