Patient switchboard staff first port of call

Vicky Baverstock-Thomas at the DGH
Vicky Baverstock-Thomas at the DGH

AT THE Herald we take a lot of calls. Or rather, I thought we did.

But I for one will never again moan about not being able to get on with a story because the phones keep ringing.

If I even get close to a whinge, I will just remember the switchboard at the DGH and shut my trap.

The 11-strong department deals with a flabbergasting 5,000 calls on an average day, although, as I soon found out, there isn’t really such a thing as an average day manning the phones at a hospital.

Vicky Baverstock-Thomas (far right) explained, “We operate from 7am until 10pm, 365 days a year and take a huge variety of calls.

“We get people calling us who want to speak to their relative staying at the hospital, GPs, people in the middle of an emergency and others wanting medical advice, not to mention the huge number of internal calls we have to deal with. We have calls on pretty much any subject you can imagine.”

The upshot of the 5,000 a day call rate is an average of around 150,000 calls a month, or 1.8million a year.

Working on those stats, each operator handles around 160,000 calls a year. Clearly then, you have to have a lot of patience and people skills to join the team.

“Definitely,” says Mrs Baverstock-Thomas, “Our team here are hugely experienced and a lot of that knowledge is picked up over the years.

“The average length of time our team has been working here is 17 years, so you can imagine the information they develop over that amount of time. It is invaluable.”

The team does not dispense medical advice and, if someone calls to report an emergency, they are told to hang up and dial 999.

But, as Mrs Baverstock-Thomas explains, there is a degree of flexibility.

Last month alone the department answered 232 calls about heart attacks and other emergencies coming into the hospitals such as trauma’s and road traffic accidents.

“You have to judge each situation on its own merits.

“For some reason people do not always like to call 999 and often come through to us.

“We have to tell people to call the emergency line but our staff are well trained in talking to people who are perhaps agitated, anxious or in a state.

“Being able to talk to people is obviously such a big part of our job.”

A lot of the hospital’s records are now available electronically and that shift away from the more old-fashioned way of doing things would, you might think, be bad news for the people in the switchboard.

The more information which is available online, the fewer people would need to call the hospital.

Not so, according to Mrs Baverstock-Thomas. “We are the first port of call for a large number of people contacting the hospital and it is important people have a friendly voice on the end of the line. That won’t change.

“And it would be next to impossible to replace the amount of knowledge and experience this team has gathered over the years.

“This team is also not just about the switchboard. We monitor the hospital’s alarms and do a wide range of other work.”

She isn’t exaggerating. Judging by the dozens of small lights on the wall of the small office, the room would light up like a Christmas tree if things went wrong at the DGH.

Thankfully though, that rarely happens and that is due in no small part to Mrs Baverstock-Thomas and her colleagues, who keep the cogs of the hospital turning all day, every day.

“We don’t get to deal with patients as directly as the more hands-on departments,” said Mrs Baverstock-Thomas, “but our job is still very rewarding.

“We don’t treat people or help them back on their feet after an operation, but we do keep things ticking over and link up everything to make sure it runs smoothly.”