Coronavirus in Portsmouth: Call for 'army' of volunteers needed at St James Hospital vaccination centre

CRUCIAL volunteers are needed to swell the ranks of a life-saving army of Covid jab helpers in the race to get all over-18s boosted.

Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 9:31 am

St James’s Hospital vaccination centre in Portsmouth is urgently looking to double its number of volunteers from 250 in the wake of Boris Johnson setting a December 31 target.

Volunteers have been hailed as ‘critical’ to making the programme a success with one clinician telling The News: ‘We couldn’t do this without them.’

More people are needed across the Hampshire and Isle of Wight vaccination programme in a variety of roles.

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Volunteer vaccinator Jonathan Phillips at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson

The speeding up of the programme comes amid a high infection rate in Portsmouth, and national concern over the Omicron variant.

The St James vaccine site at Hamble House in Milton already sees volunteers guiding people into the right place, working in observation tents and even administering jabs.

But even more are needed so the NHS can boost the site’s capacity for jabbing the population.

When The News visited the vaccination centre Hilsea mum-of-four Mary Curtis, 57, was stunned to find out the booster shot she’d just received was delivered by a volunteer who is usually an IT worker.

Clinical matron Megan Sankey at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson

Drawn up by clinical matron Megan Sankey, the Moderna jab was injected by fully-trained volunteer Jonathan Phillips.

The 53-year-old has so far jabbed around 260 people after being taught and assessed on giving the vaccine.

‘He was very proficient at it, I hardly felt it,’ said Mary. ‘It’s brilliant people giving up their spare time just to help others.’

It’s a view shared by matron Ms Sankey who said all volunteers - from vaccinators to those who greet at the gate - were ‘crucial’.

Pictured is Bob Hayter at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘We couldn’t do this without them,’ she said.

‘They’re everywhere where we need them to be and without them the patient’s experience wouldn’t be as good as it is. We’re so grateful for them.’

IT worker turned vaccinator Jonathan, from Chichester, said he started doing people’s shopping and collecting prescriptions with the Royal Voluntary Service in the pandemic before signing up to St John Ambulance to train as a vaccinator.

‘It’s a totally different experience, it’s completely new,’ he said.

Ann Evans, Demi Lawrence, Megan Sankey, Bob Hayter, and Jonathan Phillips at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson

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‘It’s full focus – 100 per cent, and it’s a good way to keep my mind away from other work and other things.

‘The most important thing is I feel I’m contributing to the campaign to keep the country safer and able to enjoy the freedoms we’ve been enjoying as a result of the vaccination programme.’

He added it was a ‘great privilege’ to work with the hardworking and ‘immensely inspiring’ team at St James.

Former accountant Bob Hayter walks to the centre from his Southsea home four times a week - putting in a four-hour shift each day.

He started in February when the centre opened, and is greeting people from 7.30am in the dark and cold.

Bob Hayter and Sarah Williams, from Solent NHS Trust. Picture: Sam Stephenson

Bob, 57, retired from work early and also volunteers at Southsea Medical Centre and Lalys pharmacy.

He enjoys the camaraderie and tells his wife each day that he’s off to ‘save lives’.

Bob told The News: ‘It’s getting involved and being part of the effort to get everybody where they need to be in this current crisis.

‘I say to my wife in the morning “I’m just off to save lives now” and that’s effectively what we’re doing.

‘The more people who get jabbed, the fewer people who are going to end up dead.’

At its peak there were 70 volunteers a day helping run the centre.

Universities and colleges are being approached with work experience placements on offer as current healthcare placements are difficult to find in the pandemic.

Many people have moved from giving up their time for free to paid work - with the site team making the switch.

Others have been helped with references for jobs.

Demi Lawrence, a volunteer lead, said those who give up their time are ‘inspiring’.

She said: ‘Being around them every day is inspiring. They’re the most important people on site.’

Sarah Williams is the associate director for research and improvement at Solent NHS Trust, and volunteer lead for Hampshire and Isle of Wight’s mass vaccination centres.

She told The News the ‘army of volunteers’ needs to increase so more people can get the jab.

Some previous volunteers have got back in touch and are enlisted again, but many people have gone back to work.

Appealing for more people to come forward, she said: ‘There’s no set time commitments.

‘You will meet new people and learn new skills and help people get back into work.

‘Most people stay as they have a good time. All the training is provided and they really are the front face of the centres.’

She praised the Hive which set up the centre and has worked tirelessly throughout.

And she said all volunteers had been ‘critical’ to the centre. ‘They’ve been here since the day it opened in droves,’ she said.

Some 1,000 NHS staff have been redeployed or come out of retirement to lend a hand in vaccinating 3.3m people so far in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, with 500 people employed in the NHS for the first time.

Roles needed

Volunteers can carry out a number of roles.

They include: registered healthcare professionals for assessments and delivering the vaccine, unregistered vaccinators who have advanced first aid including lifeguards and nursery workers, administrators and stewards.

Jane Ansell, senior responsible officer for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight COVID-19 vaccination programme, said: ‘Teams across Hampshire and Isle of Wight continue to do all they can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and we will be offering greater access to the vaccine in the coming days and weeks.

‘However, this cannot be achieved without the incredible support of our workforce.

‘I would urge anyone who wants to come forward, in whatever capacity they want, to get in contact with their local NHS and find out more about the opportunities available.’

The St James site is not offering booster walk-ins. It is offering walk-ins for first and second jabs.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Ann Evans, Demi Lawrence, Megan Sankey, Bob Hayter, and Jonathan Phillips at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson
Volunteer vaccinator Jonathan Phillips giving the jab to Mary Curtis at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson
Clinical matron Megan Sankey at the St James's Hospital vaccine hub. Picture: Sam Stephenson