Volunteers from an emergency and crisis response charity have provided former military personnel to support staff at Walsall Manor Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twelve members of RE:ACT were deployed in December 2021 on a voluntary basis for eight weeks, for roles including portering and ward clerks, providing vital extra support at a time of extreme pressures on Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust. They also deployed to the Manor for four weeks in March 2021.
Among the tasks they supported with were administrative duties, helping with bed and ambulance decontamination, distributing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and non-clinical tasks, including in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and COVID-19 wards, along with waste disposal and gritting.
The colleagues rotated so at least one person was on site every day during the latest deployment. Jack Griffiths and Peter Gough were two RE:ACT members who were deployed here, Jack’s stint coming last month while Peter was deployed on both.
Jack, 25, who was born at the Manor, worked several shifts as a ward admin/clerk based on Ward 14 and in stores and has been so inspired that he has enrolled on a pre-medicine access course after being a software engineer then a project manager in the printing industry. Now he wants to become a surgeon specialising in orthopaedics.
Handling calls to the ward, Jack, who is from Brewood in South Staffordshire, took the pressure off busy nurses, while also moving patients between bays and transporting equipment.
Not all RE:ACT volunteers are from the Armed Forces – Jack has no military background but registered with RE:ACT last summer because he wanted to do charity work. Since then he has become an assistant team leader for its Rapid Response Team in the West Midlands.
“I feel very lucky so I was keen to give something back,” he said. “Volunteering on the ward gave me a lot of satisfaction and made me feel part of a team, reinforcing my ambition to pursue a medical career.
“My epiphany moment came two years ago when I had double jaw surgery and got chatting to the surgeon before and after the operation.
“A year later I had a check-up and saw the same surgeon and he said to me ‘if you have the right passion and are doing it for the right reasons, then go for it’ and that was the green light for me.”
A former tank commander in the Queen’s Own Hussars, Peter, 63, was deployed as a porter and enjoyed it so much he returned for two months in December 2021 for two days a week and signed up for NHS job alerts.
Selly Oak-born father of one Peter, who grew up in Rushall and now lives in Telford, spent 23 years in the Army. His roles also included troop sergeant and troop leader, serving in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Germany, including West Berlin before the wall came down, Canada and Cyprus.
After leaving the military, he spent 22 years in the defence industry, surviving a rocket and mortar attack during the war in Iraq while leading teams fitting kit to vehicles.
Volunteering at the Manor rekindles a connection for Peter, as his younger sisters Tina and Marie were born there and became nurses, while his eldest sister Irene is a ward receptionist at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.
“I have enjoyed it immensely and I would do it all again,” said Peter, who was at one stage portering alongside an ex-SAS serviceman. “The camaraderie within portering is excellent and I really felt part of the team. You could see we made a big difference.
“It also brought it home to me how important the relationship is with the patients. Moving them from A to B, it might be the longest conversation they have with anyone all day. When the porters are with the patients, they are so empathetic with them.”
After the volunteers’ second stint, RE:ACT UK Humanitarian Operations Manager Luke Cox and colleague Harry Starkey were hosted by Walsall’s Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) Mark Hart at the Manor.
Ex-soldier Luke, whose wife is a nurse, said: “Our members are here to help and are grateful for this opportunity. Most are retired and/or at the end of their careers and seeking to recapture that feeling of being ‘at the coalface’.”
Harry added: “The volunteers will go wherever staff need them to go and fill skills gaps, and the secondary benefit is a morale boost to the staff seeing the former military personnel here and the boost the ex-soldiers got.”
Mark said: “We were delighted to receive the support from RE:ACT and welcomed their involvement. We have forged an extremely positive relationship with RE:ACT and look forward to more collaborative working with them in supporting emergencies in health. Both parties are keen to explore ways to work together in the future.”
RE:ACT is open to volunteers from all backgrounds. If you would like to volunteer or to find out more about the charity’s work, please visit re-act.org.uk.