For the majority of the UK, the Christmas holidays are a welcome break offering much of the UK time to rest and prepare for the new year ahead. Among the nation’s population, however, is a group within vital services that continue to work over the festive period. A time when accidents and emergencies skyrocket and resources are stretched far beyond the norm. When asked to name these unsung heroes, many people will quite rightly respond with police officers, firefighters and hospital staff. Few, though, will think of support services and the role these people play in helping to make important public services run as efficiently and safely as possible.
They are the unsung of the unsung heroes. The ones cooking Christmas dinners for patients in hospital while away from their families, or cleaners keeping wards spic and span as footfall surges, or even security staff maintaining order in the A&E department as revellers flock in with all manner of injuries. In short, resilience is stretched to its limit over the holidays, with FM hospital staff often having to go above and beyond the call of duty to keep patients safe and spirits high. But how are these spikes in demand managed? And how do service providers maintain a patient-centric service while under such intense pressure? Anthony Lunn from OCS explores the trials and tribulations of delivering support services over the Christmas break.
As dinner time is often the centrepiece of a family’s Christmas, hospital catering takes on greater significance during the holiday period. No one wants to spend their Christmas on a hospital ward, of course, less so miss out on one of the few times that families now gather round a table to enjoy a meal together, yet for many it’s a necessary step towards full recovery. Fortunately, catering is one of the few things that service providers can proactively prepare for. At OCS sites, patients are asked to detail their food preferences for the upcoming Christmas service period, noting any dietary requirements or allergies that they may have. This is then passed on to chefs to ensure that the correct stock is available and no one is left hungry. Where appropriate, our staff also try to engage with patients to replicate the welcome and comfort of a family Christmas. It may not be exactly the same, but a little interaction goes a long way for those spending long periods on a hospital ward.
Access to nutritious food is vital for good health and this only becomes more important during colder weather. As such, we strive for a hospital menu that features both seasonal options and year-round favourites that promote speedy recovery. However, Christmas is also a time for indulgence and those extra treats that might not necessarily be the healthiest option. We recognise this and try to accommodate ‘extra-menu’ choices wherever possible. It’s also important to note that not every inpatient will observe Christmas, so there are always halal and kosher options available to ensure everyone is included in the festivities.
You need only look at the headlines to see that wintertime brings the heaviest burden for NHS hospitals, especially in terms of cleanliness. The combination of soaring emergency admissions and increased risk of infection places considerable strain on facilities and demands the highest degree of diligence from cleaning staff. Keeping wards to a clinically acceptable standard is never easy but with the right amount of planning it can be done. We use a combination of wet- and dry-cleaning methods to minimise the prevalence of winter sickness bugs and stockpile resources to ensure all outbreak eventualities are covered.
The key to a successful Christmas service period is solid preparation. While the previous year cannot be used as a template, it often gives us an idea of how the current winter period will pan out. OCS works closely with hospital management to prepare a winter service plan, detailing high risk areas that will require special attention as footfall increases on site. These discussions are held with clients months in advance, giving us an indication of how staffing will need to be adjusted as demand increases. While thorough cleaning techniques are vital for minimising the spread of infection, keeping ward standards up is ultimately a question of manpower. We are, of course, tied to a budget but with the right degree of preparation labour –can be used more effectively.
Security officers typically face their most tumultuous time at work during the Christmas period. With alcohol consumption rates higher than at any other time during the year – not to mention supermarkets offering an abundance of cut-price alcohol – the likelihood of an altercation in hospital waiting room increases exponentially. While service providers can do little to prevent problem drinking outside of the hospital, it can provide officers with the right training in order to mitigate risk to other’s wellbeing.
At OCS, we provide officers with extensive training around how to deescalate potentially dangerous situations to ensure that everyone remains safe on site. While the majority of incidents are minor, staff are asked to remain vigilant to any issue that has the potential to spiral out of control. The emphasis within the hospital environment is always on the patient, irrespective of whether they are in a bed on a ward or waiting to be seen by doctor, but we also encourage staff to communicate security concerns with us. No one should feel threatened at work, especially at during Christmas when working away from loved ones.
Despite the fact that they do not face the same degree of scrutiny that cleaners do across the hospital facility, porters are nonetheless a vital part of day-to-day service. Without the ferrying they carry out, especially over the holidays when A&E admissions peak, hospital wards can easily overfill. It’s not only the transportation of beds, however, but also the movement of supplies that helps to keep operating theatres running and patients on the path to full recovery. Much like cleaners, advanced planning with the client months before help to keep porters in steady supply on site over the holidays, subsequently maintaining good patient experience even as visits rise.
The holidays are always a stressful time for hospital staff and service pressures will always increase during wintertime, but with the right amount of communication and preparation much of this can be managed. During times of strain on public services, outsourced providers are often unfairly blamed. Yet without the dedication and spirit of support services staff, many of these facilities would fail to run at all. Spare a thought for the unsung of the unsung heroes this Christmas.