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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Putting Cumbria patients’ Christmas first

WHILE families across South Cumbria open their presents and tuck into turkey, hard-working staff at Furness General will be leaving their loved ones behind to care for poorly patients forced to spend the festive season in hospital. Some of them spoke to EMMA PRESTON about what it means to spend Christmas Day on the wards

VISITS from Santa, a turkey dinner and unwrapping presents surrounded by your family.

They are all such familiar parts of a typical Christmas day. But for some children these experiences will take place, not in the comfort of their own homes, but in a bed on a hospital ward.

Yet staff at Furness General Hospital are determined to make sure the little ones they care for do not miss out on the full festive experience.

Heather Wood, children’s ward manager, explains: “We try to make it as lovely as we can for the children and the families. If we have children who are fit to go home for a little while but can’t be discharged, we can let them go home even if it’s just for a few hours on Christmas Day.

“If children are on oxygen, or are just too poorly, we try and make the best of it for them, their siblings and their parents.”

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, staff work to discharge children wherever they can so they are able to spend it at home with their loved ones.

After an extremely busy time last year, the team are hoping for a quieter festive season – not for themselves, but for the sake of any potentially poorly children and their families.

Heather says: “It’s been really, really busy the last few weeks, but it’s just dipped now so fingers crossed we don’t have another surge.

“We try and get levels on the ward as low as we can.

“If we think children can go home, we discuss it with the families and see how they feel about it.

“We can let them go home with the safety net that they can come back if they want – they don’t have to phone their GP, they can just call us and come straight back if they’re worried. It’s an open door policy.”

Giving families this peace of mind and making sure patients who stay in hospital are well cared for means selfless staff leaving their own families behind to come to work.

Emergency Department nurse, Alison Sargent, explains it is all part of the job.

“At this time of year, it’s often those who aren’t very happy that we see’, she tells me.

“It can be very busy and you see a wide range of patients.

“It’s all just about keeping your spirits up, having a good attitude and supporting each other.”

On the children’s ward alone, eight nurses and three clinical support workers will give up a large chunk of their Christmas day.

Staff nurse, Sarah Evans, will be leaving her six-year-old, four-year-old and 18-month-old children at home to come to work on Christmas day for the first time this year.

She said: “It will be hard, but you want to make things as nice as you can for the kids on the ward and be happy for everyone here.

“My mum will do dinner later, ready for me coming home, so you really just learn to work around your shifts.”

Laughing, fellow staff nurse, Paul Robinson adds: “As long as I get my Christmas dinner at some point I don’t mind when it happens!”

Christmas day on the children’s ward starts with a visit from Santa, who comes bearing a wealth of gifts thanks to the generosity of a host of local businesses and sports clubs who donate toys and sweet treats year after year.

At lunchtime, the children and their families are offered a Christmas lunch cooked up by the hospital’s catering team, who also provide a buffet for the evening.

The home-made menu is whipped up by a large team of chefs and catering assistants, who are also happy to give up their day to make sure every patient in the hospital enjoys a slap-up festive themed meal.

They will be treated to a butternut squash soup made from a recipe by celebrity chef, James Martin, followed by roast turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

Tracy Litt, hotel services manager for catering says: “It’s so important for the patients to be able to lift the lid off a plate and see that Christmas dinner.

“It’s preserving even just part of the normal experience for them.”

The catering team also continues to provide a canteen service for the hospital’s staff, and are usually visited by Barrow’s police officers for their mealtimes while out on the beat.

Tracy says: “To be honest, it’s a good day because everybody’s in high Christmas spirits.

“We have a bit of a sing song, we wear our Christmas hats and we really just get in the swing of it.

“It’s just a good, jovial day. There’s a real family atmosphere around the whole hospital.”

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