It may seem like the worst place to be on December 25, but the Horton General Hospital staff make Christmas-time extra special.
Valerie Bissett, who has been a nurse practitioner in the emergency department for 30 years, has worked on 25 Christmases and actually looks forward to it every year and volunteers.
“It’s lovely, it’s really nice because you get nice people and I love looking after the children because they don’t want to be there on Christmas and give them a little present. It’s a really nice atmosphere,” she said.
The staff do their best to make the shifts over the Christmas period as enjoyable as possible, with meals together, decorations, plenty of sweets and good cheer.
Employees are allowed to wear jewellery, hats and bring in food as well as listen to festive music.
A typical Christmas Day in A&E starts at 7.30am with some adults who have ‘had too much pop’ the night before, as Val put it, before a lull for a cooked breakfast.
Then come those who may have slipped over on the way to church or fainted, the chefs who have cut themselves preparing vegetables, and the children who have had accidents on their new toys.
In the afternoon, people come with indigestion who fear they’re having a heart attack who can expect to stay in hospital for a while so all the necessary checks can be done, which can lead to stress at wanting to get home, Val said.
Boxing Day tends to be much busier as people wait until then to visit A&E but they are always fully staffed over the Christmas period to cope.
Val urged people to only come to A&E for emergencies and to call 111 or take pain relief in the first instance.
“All we say is please be sensible, take some pain relief or there are other services available so don’t always make A&E your first port of call,” she said.
Away from the clinical side of the hospital is the small army of porters, cooks, cleaners, technicians and others who make up the award-winning estates and facilities team.
Catering supervisor John Englishby has been preparing meals for the hundreds of people at the hospital for 35 years on and off. He feels that Christmas Day is like any other but they make the food as festive as possible for patients and staff.
“The food in hospitals gets a bad press which depresses me as we put in such a sterling effort,” he said. While estates technician John Quinn is not in the hospital, being on call means he has to be ready at a moment’s notice to come in, meaning he cannot fully enjoy Christmas Day.
But for him it is part of the job and the safety of patients is the most important thing so if something is faulty and is not fixed then it will affect their stay in hospital. John did admit he would rather be skiing like last year though.
For shift porter Marilyn Summers, this Christmas is her last after ten years at the Horton.
“I’ve done a few Christmases here and I would say last Christmas was marvellous because everywhere you went, everyone was saying, ‘merry Christmas!’ And the morale was pretty good last year.”
In contrast, it will be A&E housekeeper Karolina Szulc’s first year in the emergency department at Christmas.
“Of course I will miss my family but it’s nice to be here because we are like a family, a big team, nurses, porters and kitchen staff so it’s going to be nice to be here,” she said.