Alison Stewart, Patient Liaison Support at The Royal London Hospital has been described as the glue that holds the Emergency Department together.
Alison discussed her role and why she feels most at home when supporting patients and their families through challenging times.
Alison explained that her role involves front door support in the ED department, greeting patients and relatives often in a panic. She is able to highlight to the nurses the patient’s condition and fast track them to the correct department, Alison said: “The nurses can’t have eyes in the waiting area.
“Relatives and patients can be sad, angry and stressed when they first arrive, I try and comfort them, make them tea and coffee and check on them regularly.
“I do the back work so the clinical staff can focus on their clinical role, it’s really about helping patients through that difficult stage”.
Alison has worked in the NHS for 18 years and prior to this role, she worked in the old London Hospital, urgent treatment centre. Alison said: “Once that closed, Barts developed the front door role and I’ve now been here 3 years.”
In addition to her usual duties, Alison took on the ownership of maintaining the flower boxes outside ED. She said: “The boxes were full of rubbish, cigarettes and alcohol bottles, which is not nice to see. I love gardening, so I decided to brighten it up a bit.
“I brought some things from home and added plants and soil. The patients and relatives noticed the flower boxes and said they really ‘pretty up’ the front of the Hospital.
“I do it as I enjoy it and to makes the front of the hospital look nicer, but the planting also helps me destress.”
Everyday is different for Alison and there have been lots of changes in the ED department due to Covid. She now wears scrubs at work and must adapt to the way patients and relatives enter the hospital. She explained: “The priority is now making sure we are Covid safe and due to the Covid pandemic our visitor policy has changed “
Alison is not allowed in the Covid section of the ED department, but she is able to speak with the nurses to get updates how the patient is doing and then then talk with family and reassure them.
Alison described how Covid has made her job more emotional because she is the person who must turn relatives away unless the patient is end of life. She explained that some relatives get angry, but she tries to go into more depth about why they cannot come in. She said: “When you take time and explain the reasons behind it, they usually understand. I emphasise that we are protecting them and our patients and staff.”
Alison shared that she understands what the relatives are going through as she unfortunately lost her brother earlier in the year and was not allowed to visit. She said: “I try and arrange for them to speak with the family on the phone. It can be hard if the patient has limited English, sometimes a relative can enter ED to help support them, but we will always try and arrange an interpreter.
“I sit with them and keep them company if need be, it’s always the nurse’s discretion if the family member is allowed in the room and most patients understand the policy and come on their own.”
Alison has many memorable moments from working on the front door but recalled one special one that has stayed with her. She said: “About three months ago we had a young girl who had sustained a head injury on a construction site. Her mother and siblings were distraught, and I knew from handover that she was very poorly. Her mother was in and out smoking and I took the time to speak with her and provide tea and coffee. I really did not know if the patient would make it.
“One month later I saw the mother and a group of people sat outside on the benches and I asked how patient was. The mother said, here she is.
“The young girl had survived and was able to walk downstairs, it was so lovely to see and the family thanked me for everything I had done”.
Alison wanted to explain why the Royal London Hospital ED was so special to her, she said: “I love the patients as they are so diverse, and the clinical staff are brilliant. They have all been her so long and we are a tight family unit.
“I always say, staff might leave, but they always come back”.
She concluded with sharing what she loves most about her role, she said: “I like being there to support people in need, I am that sort of person. I love that patients ask me to go with them and when I hear my colleagues say, don’t worry Alison can deal with that.
“I love it, I love the buzz of it, it’s great giving back. It is all about putting loving arms around those who need it.”
Read more stories from The Royal London Hospital ED department here.