Ward Nutrition Assistant

Sarah

What is your role?
“I am a Ward Nutrition Assistant, which is a role we have created here in Derby: there are not many other hospitals which have them. There are 11 of us throughout the hospital and three of us on Ward 405. It is my job to assist the nursing staff on the ward and help make sure patients are eating and drinking well. We work with complex patients, elderly and vulnerable people, people with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s. It is these people who might be unable to keep hydrated and eat well.

“I keep an eye out for any signs people are not swallowing well, or have any trouble eating or drinking. Then I sit with them at meal times, thicken drinks if they need it and make sure they are getting what they need. The thing I really like about the role is that I have the time to spend with patients, time which some of the nurses won’t always have. Sometimes it is just this time, this attention which can make the difference. I get to really make a bond with a patient and it gives me real satisfaction when I can encourage them to eat or drink if they haven’t been.”

Why did you want to work here?
“When I was younger I hated going to hospitals. It was the patients which scared me and I would never have wanted to work in one. But my nan had dementia and came into hospital and I came to see her. I was with her for three days and I saw how caring the staff were, how much attention they paid to making sure my nan was well-looked after and happy. I was in the shoes of the patients I now deal with in my job.

“The whole experience changed me and I had a kind of epiphany: I knew what I wanted to be. So I looked into working in the NHS and now I’m here.”

Why do you like working for Derby Teaching Hospitals in particular?

“I think in Derby we do a lot of fund-raising; there’s a real generosity among staff when it comes to that kind of thing. For me though, it comes down to the patients here. I just love working with them. I could write a book about the things they’ve come out with.”

Why did you decide to take part in the programme?
“At first, I didn’t want to do it. I was worried about what people would think of my tattoos. But then I saw the opportunity to show people what we do here in the hospital and especially, to try and change people’s views on dementia because on this ward, we look after a lot of elderly people and many have dementia. It’s almost a taboo and people think their relative will forget about them and forget what they look like and though I know from spending time with my nan that it is horrible, I want to show what it is really like, how each patient is still a person and how important it is to be there for them.

“It is also an opportunity for people who know me – my friends and family – to really see what I do every day. I talk about how my day has been but you feel no one who doesn’t work in a hospital really grasps it. I wanted to take the opportunity to show them and everyone else what we do.

“I’m happy to be an ambassador for the NHS. I think we really live in a blame culture and the NHS gets blamed a lot. I want to help change that,”

How was it working with the cameras and crew?
“It was difficult all the way through and there were people who didn’t want to be part of it. But the crew were very understanding and had a lot of time to make sure there was no one filmed who didn’t want to be.

“I actually felt more comfortable after an hour or so. I was able to get on and do my job and while I was aware I was being filmed, I was able to concentrate on what I was doing enough to be myself.

“The producer, Adrian, was careful to respect our opinions. There was one sequence he wanted to film, dream sequence, but we said no. We felt it was going too far, that it wasn’t taking our work seriously and that it wouldn’t respect the patients. They completely understood and agreed not to do it.”

How do you think viewers will react to the programme – especially the parts you appear in?
“I’m interested in how people will react to my tattoos. About ninety-seven percent of people are positive generally but while I’ve had a few comments at work, most of the attention they get is from people outside here. At work patients like that I make an effort with my hair and my interest in vintage stuff.

“Hopefully, this programme is a chance to break that prejudice, this idea that you can’t do a job if you have tattoos. To that end, the producers encouraged me to talk about it on camera.”

What will you remember from the whole experience?
“You quickly forget you’re wearing a microphone and so at one point I went to the loo with it on. The crew heard everything. I came out and they were looking at me and I was like, ‘oh my god’.”