The ‘invaluable’ volunteers helping to vaccinate you against COVID-19

Behind the scenes of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s battle against COVID-19 is an incredible group of volunteers, all keen to do their bit in the pandemic.

Over the past year the Trust has recruited a new wave of over 100 volunteers. Eager to help out during a very busy period and support a good cause, they have taken on different roles across the Trust.

The volunteers have supported staff at the University Hospital of Hartlepool with the Novavax vaccine trial and, more recently, helped staff and the public to get their vaccines. Just ahead of National Volunteers’ Week, their hard work to support both staff and patients has not gone unnoticed.

One such volunteer is 66-year-old Sheila Atkinson, a retired bank worker from Hartlepool. Sheila began volunteering last September in the Novavax vaccination study at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Sheila worked with the research and development team to welcome and support participants in the trial. She also performed routine checks, such a taking participants’ temperature, to make sure they met the criteria to take part.

She said: “I think everyone felt a bit helpless in the beginning of the pandemic. I wanted to help but I didn’t know what to do.

“I’m just a little cog in a big wheel but it’s meant that the staff have more time. It’s been nice to be involved in it.”

The voluntary positions in the trial have been just as beneficial to the volunteers themselves as they have to staff and participants. Many chose to volunteer to help keep themselves busy and active during lockdown or while they were on furlough from work.

Sheila continued: “It was nice to chat with people when they came in and it’s been great to have some kind of routine, especially during lockdown.”

The study, formed as part of an alliance between North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and two other health trusts, is the largest ever double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in the UK.

The trial has since been hailed by health trusts after the vaccine was found to be 89% effective.

Kerry Colling, the research lead at the forefront of the trial, commented: “The support from the volunteers’ service for the Novavax study has been invaluable.

“The volunteers working within the unit have been able to keep the flow of the clinics running smoothly and have provided a calm environment while participants are waiting in the booking-in room.

“It has certainly enhanced the participants’ journey through the unit.”

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s volunteers have proven instrumental in providing care and compassion throughout the pandemic.

They work throughout the hospitals, driving patients to and from hospital, keeping inpatients company and even helping them with virtual visits through video chats with friends and family at home.

Many volunteers have also opted to help out in the Trust’s COVID-19 vaccination centre, including retired Trust staff who stepped up to become volunteer vaccinators.

Marion Riordan retired from the Trust in 2018 from her role as an advanced practitioner in ultrasound.

Marion said: “Happy retired life hit an enormous brick wall in March 2020 with lockdown.

“When the vaccination programme kicked in I realised I had the skill and the time to be involved. I wanted to give something back as I felt we had all lost so much in our lives.

“To be involved was a privilege and very humbling, and I will always know that volunteering to vaccinate was the right thing for me to do.”

Some volunteers came from a non-medical background, opting to help with supporting roles such as managing the flow of patients through the centre and making sure they were comfortable while they waited.

Alison McNab, 57, is a part-time PE teacher from Stockton who took up volunteering in the vaccination centre at the University Hospital of North Tees.

She said: “It’s not something I ever expected to be doing but it’s nice to be part of the way out of COVID. I’ve enjoyed being able to help out with such a prominent thing.

“The medical team are the ones working hard, we’re just filling in the gaps.”

The volunteers have been a crucial element in the vaccination centres to make sure everyone can get their jab quickly and comfortably.

To find out more about volunteering, visit our volunteer page or get in touch with our volunteering team on 01642 383933 or nth-tr.volunteersnth@nhs.net

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