Our Health Heroes: celebrating COVID contributions

The annual Our Health Heroes campaign shines a light on the extraordinary efforts of thousands of healthcare support staff who keep the health service running

On 23 March, more than 300 NHS and social care staff gathered for the virtual Our Health Heroes awards organised by Skills for Health. They were joined by sector and government leaders including Edward Argar, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care.

After a year in which the NHS faced its toughest ever challenges, the first anniversary of the first UK lockdown was an apt day to be recognising, reflecting, and celebrating the difference to people lives these unsung health heroes continue to make, day after day.

Delivered by Skills for Health, with the help of partners UNISON, NHS Employers, SFJ Awards and Bevan Brittan, the annual Our Health Heroes campaign, now in its fifth year, shines a light on the extraordinary efforts of thousands of healthcare support staff who work hard behind the scenes to keep the system running.

Fifteen individuals, 4 teams and 19 NHS and social care organisations from across the country received national recognition for the incalculable difference they have made to people’s lives over the last 12 months.

UNISON sponsors two award categories: operational services support worker and apprentice of the year.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “We are really proud to sponsor the Our Health Heroes awards. The awards shine a light on the work of those healthcare staff who are often overlooked for recognition.

“This year, more than any other, the awards help to promote the message that everyone who works in the NHS is valued, no matter what role they fulfil.”

Operational support services worker of the year

Tina Hughes, a domestic assistant cleaner at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM), has been named UNISON Operational Support Services Worker of the Year.

Tina has worked for the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust for over 14 years. As a Domestic Assistant Cleaner for 2gether Support Solutions, on the Rainbow Ward at QEQM, her passion for her role is clear. But it was during the early stage of the pandemic when Tina’s innate desire for helping others shone through.

When a colleague’s 94-year-old grandfather had been an inpatient in QEQM for just over two weeks, and the family were unable to visit him due to the pandemic, Tina helped the family keep in contact with him during this very emotional and distressing time.

Initially, Tina communicated verbal messages to the man, but when he contracted COVID-19 and had not much longer to live, and when no one in the family had seen him for nearly three months, Tina went to great lengths to enable video calls for numerous members of the family, using her own phone. Tina’s support gave the family an opportunity to say a final goodbye they will never forget.

Tina’s colleague said: “I have known Tina for years, and she has always been a positive presence on the ward for staff, children and their families, but this time her personal help to me and my family has totally gone beyond all expectations. I have told Tina how much her help means to us.”

Apprentice of the year

Janine Pring, a respiratory physiologist apprentice at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT), has been named UNISON Apprentice of the Year for her integral role in keeping staff and patients safe during COVID-19, with the essential fit testing of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Jonathan Hall, non-medical education manager at NBT said: “Janine is a shining example of an outstanding apprentice. Throughout this challenging year, Janine has continued to put her patients first and driven innovation to improve patient care.

She has gone above and beyond supporting other areas of the trust with essential fit testing of PPE for her colleagues. Apprentices like Janine help strengthen and build the future of the NHS.This win is truly well deserved, congratulations Janine.”

Going the extra mile

Of course, it’s almost impossible to select just one winner for each category, given the millions of tireless health workers who have sacrificed so much over the last year.

One of the nominees for the operational services support worker role was UNISON member Laura Hurford, who is a senior administrator for Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust (WAST).

Laura joined WAST as an administrative assistant in 2004. Now, she is responsible for the management and supervision of the trust’s national learning and development administrative hub.

Laura has tirelessly worked to improve her workplace and enhance her professional practice, including planning alternative education delivery that saved £30,000 in hotel costs.

Her colleagues describe her as “a kind and compassionate colleague and leader, who is always willing to go the extra mile to support team members both professionally and personally.”