Sarah Powell, a senior support worker at Huntercombe Hospital Cotswold Spa tells us what a typical day is like.
‘It’s actually really hard to talk about a typical day because honestly, no two days are ever the same. There are of course, some routine things that happen every day, maybe I should start with that?
A typical day
We work 12-hour shifts (either a day or a night shift) from 8am to 8pm or vice versa but every shift will always begin with a handover to or from the previous or following one. We all spend 15 minutes ensuring that the team on the next shift are fully updated on any changes to patient priorities or medication, any new risks or issues, progress or themes – sometimes a patient will have begun to talk about a specific area of concern or direction and we’d want to ensure the team were aware and able to continue the conversation. It sounds like such a small thing but every little detail matters and communication between team members is really important to maintain continuity of care.
Something else that happens every day, not surprisingly, is mealtimes. It goes without saying that in an eating disorder hospital this is one of the most important parts of our daily routine and has to be managed carefully and we eat six times a day! Staff will sit down with patients and support them throughout meals. We talk about motivational factors that may be home, holidays or getting on with life. We may also talk about things on TV, films or music. It is during these times that patients may exhibit eating disordered behaviours such as attempting to smear or hide food so we have to be extremely alert and challenge these behaviours if we need to.
Chatting is something that happens every day, all day. Quite apart from communicating with each other as a team we spend most of our time chatting with patients. Whilst this may have therapeutic goals in terms of helping them to realise things that are important to their recovery, sometimes it is just normal chit chat and that’s almost as important. You really do need to be both a talker and a listener in this job. Having said that, you have to also remember that you need boundaries, you are a carer, not a friend and whilst there can feel like there’s a subtle difference it is a very important one. I suppose it’s a little like parenting in that respect, you need enough of a relationship and dialogue to have good communication but there has to be a line and a clear understanding of the relationship.
As a senior support worker, I run therapeutic input groups where we expand on topics that may have arisen in patients’ one-to-one sessions but that are of benefit to the patient cohort in general. Topics we’ve looked at recently include Metaphors and Me, the DBT House (Dialectic Behavioural Therapy) and what you have as your support system and who to involve.
Monday to Friday lots of our patients are at school so those days are slightly different to weekends. Therapy and nursing go on alongside school but we try to maintain a regular school rhythm so that our patients’ education is not disrupted. We carry out weight gain checks and review care plans on Tuesdays so Mondays can be a little tense as we help prepare patients mentally for being weighed. Often on a Wednesday there can be additional tensions as patients try to deal with whatever their latest weight is. The latter part of the week tends to be much calmer and dare I say, a little more relaxed.
In addition to daily handovers we also have weekly formulation meetings with the psychologists to discuss how to support individual patients, how the team is working and any issues we want to discuss. There’s a really strong team here at Cotswold Spa and everybody’s view is valid and encouraged. It’s really nice to work in an environment where you know that everybody’s contribution counts and is appreciated.
Other things I might get involved with throughout the day include helping with shift allocations, working as a nurse’s assistant, sorting patient priorities, organising and attending appointments, walks and therapeutic 1:1 sessions with patients. I might also get involved in helping with practical issues like organising personal independence payments or helping patients make appointments and attending things like dental check ups.
Why I love it
As you can see, it’s really hard to define a typical day because they are all different. The thing that is consistent is that I love coming to work. I love the fact that everybody’s door is always open, that the people I work with are all really supportive and encouraging – whether that’s getting involved in writing care plans or assisting with clinical activities like taking bloods. There’s a really positive feeling here and everybody is encouraged to get involved and to continue learning and developing.
What I dislike
If I had to say what I dislike then it would probably be the night shifts. We tend to do a lot of our paperwork then – unless we’re checking on patients. Patients’ supervision requirements can range from checking on them every 15 minutes through to one-to-one observations. It’s not really the most satisfying part of the job but it is essential to safeguard some of our very poorly patients. I’m happiest during the day when there’s lots of activity and chatting going on, which is a really important part of the job and definitely the part I like best.
I would say to anybody thinking of taking on a support worker role at Huntercombe that they need to be empathetic, good at listening and communicating and enjoy working as part of a team. In return you’ll get to do a really fulfilling job, working with a great team of people and with lots of learning and development opportunities – what more can you ask for?’