Daniel Finkelstein is a columnist in the Times newspaper on a Saturday. He is married to an epidemiologist.  He wrote that the family joke was that no-one was ever going to leap up and cry  “We need an epidemiologist!  Is there an epidemiologist in the house!” at which point his wife could leap forward and save the day.

Well, how wrong can you be? It just shows everyone has their role in the NHS.

By coincidence, Adam Kay, a doctor and the author of “This Is Going To Hurt” a very funny, sometimes sad, but thought-provoking book on what life can really be like as an NHS doctor, wrote an article “Let’s Clap For These Heroes Too” in the Sunday Times magazine about the staff we may not get to hear about so much, but without whom the NHS could not function.

He makes the point that when you think of hospitals, your first thought is “doctors” and “nurses”.  They are indeed the “front line” staff you will see most of if you have to be admitted to hospital. But Adam goes on to name other kinds of staff, the one you don’t perhaps even notice, but whose role is just as crucial to the smooth running of a hospital.  As he says, the list is not exhaustive; it couldn’t be, there are so many.

Cleaners, for instance, their role even more important now in making sure everything is kept clean and disinfected.  They operate day and night.  Alongside them are the laundry staff, washing endless mountains of used bedding, towels and scrubs and the auto-clavers sterilising re-usable equipment and making up the packs of instruments for wards and operating theatres.

We have the porters. These are the people you see busily pushing trolleys, gas canisters, bins of things we dare not ask about and of course patients in beds and wheelchairs being admitted to a ward,  taken for surgery or for their x-rays, or the good bits – to the labour ward or to be discharged home.  Adam points out that it is often the porters who are there to offer that bit of reassurance to anxious patients that everything’s going to be fine.

Ambulance staff are the same, their calm voices telling you that you’ll be ok;   they’ll get you to hospital in no time, while at the same time inserting drips, giving oxygen and painkilling injections and checking blood pressures. We believe them.

Kitchen staff get a mention.  Complaining about hospital food is a national pastime, but the logistics of actually getting food to hundreds if not thousands of patients and staff several times a day shouldn’t be underrated.  Adam even has a good word for management, often the target for all that is wrong with the NHS.  They are the ones, he says, who, for instance, organise the staffing rotas to ensure staff are there and the booking systems so that thousands of patients actually get to see that staff.  To say nothing of those dealing with patient complaints.

Hospitals cannot run without volunteers.  Thousands of people came forward to offer to help during this crisis, but Adam calculates that there are about 3 million volunteers anyway.  They staff the fundraising charity stalls, point you in the right direction for your blood tests, take trolleys round the wards with books, newspapers and (sometimes) chocolate on and you will often find them doing the gardening or running hospital radio.

As Solicitors, we need expert reports to investigate our cases.  We deal on a daily basis with medical secretaries for busy consultants.  They are largely women and in the main are unflappable, well organised, good humoured and approachable. We would guess they run “their” consultant’s life so efficiently that he or she barely notices- and that’s a compliment. We really value their help.

So that’s just a few. You will have your own suggestions. But whoever your unsung heroes are, give them a thought when you’re out clapping for carers.

Adam Kay has a new book “Dear NHS:  100 Stories To Say Thank You” out in July, published by Trapeze.


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