East Lancashire hospitals charity ELHT&Me has named matron Sarah Caton as its first Doorstep Hero as it launches a campaign to honour NHS sacrifices during the pandemic.
The Doorstep Heroes campaign, launched today by ELHT&Me, will single out Trust employees who contributed to East Lancashire’s fight against Covid-19 and share their stories with the community that came out clapping for the NHS during lockdown one.
Sarah, who has worked for the Trust for 34 years, described caring for East Lancashire’s Covid patients as “emotionally tough”, with many not surviving during the area’s toughest periods.
When soaring Covid numbers meant her ward became an intensive care unit, Sarah, then a ward manager and her team had to learn a whole new skill set to deal with the “heartbreaking” cases they faced.
Now a matron for Pendle and Clitheroe Community Hospitals, she was delighted to be named ELHT&Me’s first-ever Doorstep Hero.
Sarah, who lives in Blackburn, told Charity Today:
“I did go out clapping on the doorstep every week and it made me cry and feel really proud to do what I do.
“I’ve worked for the Trust for 34 years and I’m just doing my job, but I’ve always been proud to work here, and proud to work with the community and the teams at ELHT.”
Denise Gee, manager of ELHT&Me, said Sarah deserved to be named the first-ever Doorstep Hero and said she looked forward to honouring even more Trust staff. ELHT&Me supported Sarah and other Trust staff and patients during the pandemic using donations from the generous East Lancashire community.
She said: “Sarah is an extremely worthy recipient of our Doorstep Hero accolade and I’m so pleased to be able to show our gratitude for the contribution she made during the pandemic. We all know the sacrifices made by our NHS but I think it’s hugely important that we share with the community some of the individual stories of how East Lancashire coped with the pandemic.”
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Sarah was the manager on ward C9, a medical ward at the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital.
As cases started to rise, the ward was turned into a Covid assessment unit before becoming an additional intensive care unit, enabling the hospital to cater for the sheer number of patients being admitted in a serious condition.
“The hospital was getting really busy and we were asked to increase the capacity of the intensive care unit by adapting other wards to become intensive care wards,” Sarah said.
The new working environment meant staff drafted in to support intensive care units had to learn whole new ways of working.
“It’s a whole new skill set, but we were supported by the ICU team who were happy to teach us what we needed to know and support us,” she said.
The situation was harrowing, she said, with little known about the spread of Covid and the scale of the problem in the early days. She and her husband took the decision to stay away from relatives from March until July so that Sarah could protect both her patients and family.
“To be working on the frontline was emotionally tough, trying to support patients and other members of my team, who were dispersed in the ICU,” she said. “It was challenging and heartbreaking at times seeing patients suffering and caring for those who didn’t survive.”
There were happier times too, however, when patients did pull through and became well enough to be sent home.
Sarah said: “ICU became really good at rehabilitating patients so that by the time they were on the wards they could be discharged after only a short time, and we used to clap them off the wards.
“Some still keep in touch with the wards to show how grateful they are.”
In Sarah’s current role, which she started in October, she has responsibility for two wards at Pendle and one at Clitheroe, supporting ward managers and ensuring good quality patient care. She paid tribute to the charity and donors for their support.
She said: “During the pandemic, there were lots of ward moves and it was a struggle. The support from the charity through the delivery of chocolates, soft drinks, food, toasters and microwaves – whatever we needed – made our lives so much easier and nothing was ever too much trouble for them.
“When visiting stopped, patients became more isolated and I contacted Denise from ELHT&Me to see what they could do. They organised free television and things like colouring books, word searches, reading books and iPads so they could keep in touch with relatives, which was really important.
“The Trust and the charity work really well together – I don’t know what we’d do if the charity didn’t exist.”
Of ELHT&Me’s work to support staff, charity manager Denise said: “From the scale of the charity paying £2.5m to fund robotic surgery to simple things like providing a toaster for staff, what we do is so wide-ranging across the Trust and we need the community to continue supporting us so we can do even more.”
ELHT&Me’s next event is the Big NHS Walk, an eight-mile challenge on September 26, which can also be completed virtually.
To nominate an ELHT employee for our Doorstep Heroes campaign visit https://elht.nhs.uk/charity/doorstep-heroes
To support ELHT&Me or enter the Big NHS Walk, visit the website at https://elht.nhs.uk/charity