To say 2020 has been a challenging year for NHS and social care workers would be somewhat of an understatement.
Since March the coronavirus pandemic has caused untold upheaval to the way the health service operates, uprooting staff from their normal roles and environments and, in many cases, exposing them to more tragedy than they’d ever care to encounter.
To date Covid-19 has claimed in excess of 3,000 lives in Wales despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. The elderly and those with chronic conditions in particular have been unable to fight off this devastating novel virus while in the same breath there are countless more survivors dealing with its debilitating after effects.
Despite how mentally and physically exhausted these workers are there is no Christmas break for the health or care sectors. If anything their jobs will be even more demanding as they try and cope with the increasing influx of patients needing treatment for Covid-19 and other acute conditions.
So while you’re tucking into your Christmas turkey with all the trimmings please spare a thought for those who will be spending this festive period looking after those most in need.
Here we profile a small selection of workers who will be taking on a shift this December 25.
Andy is a make ready assistant for the Welsh Ambulance Service, based in Tredegar, whose role it is to decontaminate and re-stock ambulance vehicles.
The former catering manager was inspired to join the NHS by his wife Mandy, a nurse of 24 years at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil. The father-of-three is working a 7am to 3pm shift on Christmas Day.
“Of course it’d be nice to watch the kids open their presents but needs must, I understand that,” he said.
“This is a 24-7 job and it doesn’t stop and I knew this coming into the role. My wife appreciates this too – she’s only ever had five Christmas Days off in her 24-year career.
“We’ll have Christmas lunch as soon as I’m home and on Boxing Day we’ll celebrate our youngest son Alex’s seventh birthday so at least we have that to look forward to.”
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Andy added that the Covid-19 pandemic has generated a dramatic increase in workload for the NHS trust’s make ready assistants.
“We were cleaning dozens of extra vehicles a day at the height of the pandemic,” he said. “When you’re decontaminating the ambulances and re-stocking all of the equipment there’s no room for error because someone’s life could depend on it at the end of the day.
“It’s fast-paced and high pressured but I really enjoy my job. Knowing that you’ve played a part in the Covid-19 effort is a rewarding feeling too.”
Hywel Dda University Health Board employee Heidi is a senior sister working at the Ysbyty Enfys Selwyn Samuel field hospital in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic she was required to have a period of shielding where she worked from home with the Test, Trace, and Protect service.
But now she has been given the chance to work in Ysbyty Enfys Selwyn Samuel which opened November 16 to help support the acute hospital in Carmarthenshire during the pandemic.
She said: “While every effort is made to discharge patients home before Christmas so they can be with their families this is not always possible. So it is important that we can provide as special a day for them.
“This will be a very different experience from any previous Christmas with social distancing and limited decorations due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
“But we are making every effort to maintain the Christmas spirit. We have purchased wipeable window Christmas decorations, Christmas gifts for each patient, and there’s a communal area for patients to have their socially-distanced Christmas meal with tablecloths and Christmas crackers.
“After 17 years of nursing this is certainly not my first year of working on Christmas Day but it is my first since becoming a mother.
“I will be spending time with my young family before happily coming to work to care for our patients and support my colleagues.”
William (Billy) Shaw
Billy is a biomedical scientist working in the blood sciences department at Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire. “This is my normal roster and so I find myself in work on Christmas Day,” he said.
“It will be much like any other day. We still have to do maintenance on the analysers and have them up and running to process patients’ samples so the medical staff and nursing staff can plan their treatments.
“In blood sciences we process blood samples testing for renal function, liver function, a variety of hormones assays, cardiac testing (heart attacks), as well as infection monitoring and, if required, cross-matching blood for patients who require blood products.
“During the height of the lockdown we still operated a 24-hour system, as you would expect from the hospital and its departments. We were also responsible for some of the Covid-19 antibody testing as well as our routine work.
“Once I finish at 8pm, I will go home, have a meal (our Christmas Day was on December 23), and then prepare for my weekend of nights.”
Luke is a healthcare support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
He will spend the morning of Christmas Day watching his children, aged two and four, open their presents before starting his shift at Bryn y Neuadd Hospital in Llanfairfechan.
“Patients will have presents in the morning and then a proper Christmas dinner. When I start work in the afternoon we’ll be carrying on the celebrations, making sure that our patients can enjoy the day as best they can,” he said.
“I’m blessed having a wife and two children that I can spend Christmas with but it’s not the same for everybody. Unfortunately not all of our patients have contact with their families.
“Christmas is a time for giving and being a part of a Christmas Day work team helping patients enjoy the day is exciting. They don’t have their family with them on the day so we are their family.
“Being a familiar face that they know and helping to put a smile on their faces is very special.”
Mum-of-one Caren, who works as a clinical care practitioner, volunteered to be on duty on the big day for the 10th year in a row.
The 40-year-old will leave her home at Caer Saint, Caernarfon, in time to be at Pendine Park’s Bryn Seoint Newydd care home for 7.30am on Christmas morning – and she can’t wait.
“My son Ioan spends the morning with his father and as long as he’s happy to do that then I’m happy to be in work and then to spend the afternoon with him,” she said.
“But these people we have here at Bryn Seiont Newydd, they need someone with them because it’s been very hard for them for the best part of a year with the pandemic and they need to see familiar faces.
“It’s good for them and it’s a pleasure for me seeing them smile. We’re a cheerful bunch here and I’m a happy-go-lucky person and love singing and dancing so we have a lot of fun.”
Caren’s happy demeanour was recognised when she won Pendine Park’s Big Smile Award at Bryn Seiont.
She does the medicines round in the morning and spends time in the different wings of the home before joining the residents and staff for Christmas lunch at midday.
“We get them up for breakfast, help them on with their Christmas jumpers and to open their presents from their relatives,” she said.
“They all get a present from Pendine Park which we have bought and wrapped up for them and afterwards there’s Christmas paper everywhere.
“I really think it’s lovely being here with them on Christmas Day. It’s a really happy atmosphere every day but especially at Christmas and I love singing and dancing around and seeing the residents smile.”
Tracy is a critical care practitioner who works on board the Wales Air Ambulance Charity helicopter in north Wales.
She will be one of several ‘flying medics’ on duty across Wales this Christmas Day alongside the pilots and critical care allocators.
Her festive shift will start at the charity’s Caernarfon base at 7.30am. She will carry out equipment checks on the helicopter and rapid response vehicle, ensuring that she and the medical team have everything they need to deliver critical care if needed.
Following daily checks Tracy will join the duty team for a briefing before the helicopter is moved out of the hangar and onto the apron ready for take-off if a call were to come through.
Tracy said: “I’ve worked on Christmas Day many times before as a critical care practitioner with the Wales Air Ambulance, a paramedic, and when I was in the Army.
“I always miss my family when I’m working Christmas as it’s such an important family time. But it makes me feel proud that I’m working on the Wales Air Ambulance and ready to keep other families safe on this special day.”
This is the first year that the Wales Air Ambulance will be operational every hour of Christmas Day.
It comes after the charity introduced an overnight aircraft earlier this month, making it a 24/7 operation. Tracy’s shift will come to an end at 8pm and another Wales Air Ambulance team will be in place to cover Wales overnight.