20 April 2020

Administrator Gabriella Verta swapped office clothes for scrubs and masks as she became CNWL’s first volunteer Ward Assistant.

The role has been developed to take the pressure off frontline staff in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic and is part of CNWL’s staff redeployment strategy.

Gabriella joined 14 others to make up the first tranche of the volunteer Ward Assistants; four of whom have come from outside the NHS.  

The role involves helping out free up clinical staff to spend more time on healthcare, as well as improve the experience of patients, as well at intimate care, meal times, hourly checks on Covid patients, and engaging with patients as well as other non-clinical duties required of her.

For Gabriella, who is only in her first week in the volunteer role, it means combining the Ward Assistant role with her paid role of Youth Criminal Justice Liaison Diversion Administrator for the Offender Care Service Line.

She will work every week as an administrator, still responding to the needs to the Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion Practitioners and give as many hours a week on the Tasman Ward Low Secure Unit at the Park Royal Mental Health Centre in Brent need to help with the staffing, agreed by her manager and the Tasman Ward manager.

This provides specialist assessment, treatment and care to people who have or may have severe mental illness and complex needs

She said: “It was an ideal opportunity for me. As soon as CNWL started asking for volunteers to help out frontline staff, I jumped at the chance. 

“It’s non-stop and very long hours and as it’s on a mental health unit it’s challenging and testing and draining but mental health is absolutely fascinating for me and it’s great they want me there. Working along side these brilliant Nurses here too have really helped settle me in."

“I’m there to help with the meal times and to speak with the patients and to help the clinical staff when they need help and I love it. I feel I should be doing something so for me it’s great that I can actually get out and help the frontline NHS staff, rather than just being in a back office role."

“Working for the NHS, I feel bad just sitting down in the house doing my regular role, whereas with this I feel I’m really helping the frontline staff who really matter and patients as well as doing my own work. It means I’m able to help support and help them. We should all be doing are bit to help the NHS, whether that means volunteering if you can or staying at home."

“The last couple of days have been challenging because there are a lot of challenging patients there, but a lot of the patients just want to speak with someone and I’ love walking around and talking to patients, I have developed over such a short period time with them a good re-pore with them."

Gabriella, 29, comes from a prison background having worked in both Holloway Prison and Wormwood Scrubs, albeit in an administrative capacity – at Wormwood Scrubs she was a Detail Manager, she worked closely with a team to assist in the needs to the jail, and the rota's for the Operational staff, as well as regimes of the jail in itself.

It meant though that she was used to working in challenging environments. 

She also has an enduring interest in mental health issues. At Wormwood Scrubs she also volunteered as a Family Liaison Officer and was also an ACCT Assessor there before she moved to CNWL to work as a Youth Justice and Liaison Administrator, which allows her to engage with the Youth Offending Teams and younger people, working alongside her Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion Practitioners.

Tasman Ward Manager Jude Anaedu said: “For us, this programme has been fantastic and has helped us a lot because we have had shortages in some areas so we are fortunate to have her here.

“Some of our patients have either been Covid positive or have displayed symptoms so it’s been hard work.

“I’ve worked with her before at Holloway Prison and knew she’d be ideal for us. She’s extremely hard-working; she’s non-stop and eager to help and has done everything asked of her.”

Sue Browning, Service Manager for Low Secure and Community Forensic Services, added: “Gabriella’s been really well received on the Ward by other staff and service users. We’ve had staff shortages during this Covid crisis and having Gabriella as a Ward assistant has really helped us.  I’m really pleased that this has been such a positive experience for us and Gabriella.”