Stocking the fridge and cupboards with treats for colleagues isn’t in Sophie Roberts’ usual job description, but her small kindnesses are making a massive difference to colleagues working in the Covid ITU at Prince Charles Hospital, and inspiring staff to think of others.
As an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) specialising in anaesthetic, Sophie is a vital cog in the operating team, supporting the anaesthetist during routine and emergency operations. And, with the arrival of the pandemic, Sophie’s kindness towards colleagues is proving to be a lifeline of another kind after she was nominated as the team’s wellbeing co-ordinator, tasked with boosting morale and looking after colleagues’ emotional health as they work through such a challenging time.
Ordinarily, Sophie’s role is busy and demanding enough, assisting with procedures including maternity, trauma and cardiac. With the extra workload brought by Covid, however, Sophie and her ODP colleagues are working around 60 hours per week – including one on-call, 24-hour shift – in addition to her wellbeing role, which sees her shopping for food and toiletries and messaging fellow health workers in her spare time.
“Usually there are 16 ODPs in PCH but, due to shielding, only nine are at work at the moment,” said Sophie, who has worked at the hospital for nearly 10 years. “We’ve pledged to cover every Covid ITU shift between us, on top of six 10-12 hour shifts to cover our usual workload. Our manager, Cheryl, is amazing and has given us a lot of flexibility to choose shifts around family commitments. Because we work as an emergency service, we’re familiar with this type of patient from a medical point of view, but it’s still very difficult.”
Sophie and her ODP colleagues are part of the intubation team, so they need to be contactable by pager at all times. “As it’s an aerosol generating procedure, we’re the most at risk, going into an unknown emergency and often with unknown staff,” she said. “Usually in our work we have so many sad experiences, but this is dealing with very different circumstances. But we’re all looking after each other, with scrub nurses and pre-assessment nurses all coming together and working really well.”
Sophie was nominated for the wellbeing co-ordinator role by theatres senior nurse manager Cheryl Davies. “It’s been amazing and such a privilege,” she said. “I was seeing first-hand the struggles some of the staff were going through. As ODPs, we are used to dealing daily with emergencies, but not everyone is, so I was over the moon to be nominated by Cheryl.
“Staff psychologist Michelle Smalley has been so supportive and I have tried to have an open arms policy to all the Covid staff. For the first five weeks, I didn’t stop! Staff were messaging day and night and I wanted to make sure I replied to everyone. I also stock up the fridge and the toiletries in the recharge room.
“I go shopping after work to buy some items, but I can never thank this town enough for all the donations people have sent in. It’s the little home comforts, like creams and face masks, that really make a difference. We’ve even been able to create a small gym with equipment from the physio! We have a positivity wall full of pictures and thank you notes, and a local company made bumper stickers to sell to support us.”
Sophie manages her own wellbeing with long walks with her pug, Fergie, as well as talking to family. “Fergie is always so pleased to see me when I get home from a shift!” she said. “I love walking, and being with him helps me switch off. One of my sisters is a Covid ITU nurse in San Francisco, so we Facetime and I can talk to her about work. It was her 40th birthday recently and we were due to be out there with her, so I’m looking forward to seeing her as soon as we can.”
Taking on the wellbeing role has also been good for Sophie’s own mental health. “It’s been a good distraction,” she said. “I think all of this will hit me afterwards but, for now, my life outside of work is on hold. Our team took the decision that we were all going to be fully committed to covering every shift, so putting other things on hold is how I can make it work”.
Cheryl said: “Sophie has done so much to help and support our Covid, as well as preparing letters to everyone who has donated to thank them personally from us. She is always looking after others and she’s a star.”