Portsmouth NHS staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital get 'first class' treatment as furloughed cabin crew launch Project Wingman

FRONTLINE NHS staff can now take a break in a ‘first class lounge’ thanks to furloughed cabin crew volunteers.

Sunday, 28th March 2021, 7:00 am

Project Wingman landed at Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital aims to provide a sanctuary for staff to unwind from the pressures of pandemic work.

The initiative, launched by two furloughed pilots, is entirely run by volunteer aviation crew who have found themselves not working due to Covid-19.

Grounded crew members, Aimee Merritt and Samantha Wilkie, had both been working at the hospital while on furlough and were inspired to lead the project.

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Project Wingman cabin crew volunteers with NHS staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham.

Samantha Wilkie, 33, had previously volunteered at a similar scheme in Worthing.

She said: ‘We obviously saw how hard the NHS were working here and we really thought that they were missing out.

‘I just thought it would be really nice if we could progress things into the QA and make sure they had the wellbeing and the comfort that we were able to offer in other hospitals.’

Staff at the hospital can spend their breaks receiving special treatment from the team of cabin crew in the First Class Wingman Lounge.

More than 25 volunteers are caring for staff by offering a compassionate ear, refreshments, food, or a go on a massage chair.

Aimee Merritt, 30, said: ‘We wanted it to be that space where they could just come for 5 to 10 minutes, relax, switch off, talk about their day or talk about anything really.

‘It’s just nice that we can give the support and give thanks to the NHS staff.’

Cabin crew are trained in how to communicate and operate in stressful situations, so are well suited to hospitals in Covid times.

Project Wingman volunteers are able to empathise and offer support to frontline staff who may be struggling with the pressures of their work.

Aimee, from Southampton, said: ‘Crew are quite good at identifying what action needs to be taken or identifying a situation where somebody may need some help.

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‘If we speak to people and think “actually is there any more help we can offer?” we can signpost them and give the leaflets so that they can speak to someone else.’

They have been ‘overwhelmed’ by the response to Project Wingman’s first week and hope to soon offer the initiative at weekends, as well as in the week.

Samantha, from Arundel, West Sussex, added: ‘It’s great we can do something to support others and it’s given our cabin crew community a really good sense of purpose.

‘It all goes round in a circle - if we can look after them, then they can provide better care to our friends and family who live locally as well.’

The service will be available to all staff at QA Hospital Monday to Friday, 7am to 4pm, and can be found in the wellbeing room.

Relying on support and donations from charities and businesses, the project has so far been able to provide hospital staff with an array of treats but are always looking for more.

See projectwingman.co.uk or email [email protected] to help out the project, which started elsewhere in April last year.

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