Claire Montgomery rose to the challenge to support NHS Western Isles during lockdown by swapping her usual role in the classroom for a role on the frontline of the Emergency Department in Western Isles Hospital, Stornoway.

Claire, from Stornoway, had always had a keen interest in healthcare, and had worked in education with children and young people with complex additional support needs for 17 years, as a Support for Learning Assistant.

The vital role of Healthcare Assistant in the Emergency Department (ED) became temporarily vacant in March 2020 when the current postholder had to shield.

Claire says: “I applied for a temporary position on a secondment basis for three months as a Healthcare Assistant at the ED in the Western Isles Hospital. As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic the post became an urgent requirement for additional cover. As soon as I saw the job was advertised I knew this was something I would love to try as I’ve always had a keen interest in healthcare. I have worked in education with children and young people with complex additional support needs for 17 years and I felt the skills and experiences I have gained over the years gave me the confidence to apply for the post and to take on a new challenge.”

She continued: “However due to the Coronavirus pandemic it was clear the job would be different from what I had first envisaged. As the schools were closed, I was asked if I would consider the secondment with immediate start. While I was conscious I could have stayed at home, I decided I wanted to help. I started the position in the Emergency Department at the beginning of April, which was a very uncertain time, but I was keen and willing to undertake any challenges we were faced with.”

Claire explained that she initially, and understandably, felt apprehensive and that it was a steep learning curve, working with staff delivering care to patients.  “Starting a new role in a busy unfamiliar department and with daily changes due to Covid-19 meant I had to learn very quickly, but with having the opportunity to undertake a wide range of training and with the support and encouragement of fantastic colleagues, I had the confidence to work and put my new skills in to practice.”

Claire added: “I am very thankful for the opportunity to work in the Emergency Department. It was a very rewarding experience and I enjoyed being part of a such a great team. The experience taught me so much and gave me a real insight into the fantastic work our NHS does. Lockdown was such a different experience for me personally working in the Emergency Department. For the future I will be returning to education for the start of the new term in August, but maybe one day I'll take up a career in nursing.”

NHS Western Isles Emergency Department Manager, Susan Macaulay, said: “Claire fitted really well into the role of Healthcare Assistant, which involved assisting Emergency Nurse Practitioners to deliver care and treatment to patients attending the ED.

“Claire already had good transferable skills and experience, having worked for a long period assisting and supporting children and young people with complex additional support needs, including healthcare, in her role as support for learning assistant. However this was a big change and with the support of existing ED staff, she quickly acquainted herself to the Emergency Department setting. She also adopted new skills, such as carrying out patient observations, ECGs and assisting trained staff with procedures.”

Susan added: “Claire is to be commended for rising to the challenge in an unfamiliar setting to help her NHS colleagues.  She joined us at a very challenging time, in an unfamiliar setting, and where things changed daily. We appreciated Claire’s assistance and enthusiasm in learning new skills during her time with us. Thanks also to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Director of Education for facilitating this secondment.”

Photo: Claire was presented with a bouquet of flowers on her last shift (June 30) from colleagues and everyone at NHS Western Isles, in particular the Emergency Department, wishes her well as she returns to the Nicolson Institute, and thanks her for her support.