Back to the Floor - Hey Mr Porter and a Miss!

Karen Partington and the porters So today I spent my 'back to the floor' shift with our fabulous portering team. For those of you who don't know much about their wide roles in our organisation, here are a few facts.....

There are about 90 staff; and all except one is male! 16 do nights, there are 8 supervisors, 5 work in the post room, 5 on the Sharoe Green Unit and 5 deal with the waste, 3 in MRI & CT, 2 pathology lab porters plus dedicated staff delivering sterilised supplies, in Emergency Department, in gynaecology theatres and oncology. The team covers and supplies staff to pharmacy, medical devices and the estates yard when required.

There's a really wide range of roles within the department and my first trip was to do the delivery of stores. It quickly became apparent that there can be long delays for lifts at peak periods. Patients always come first and if patients are being transferred from one area to another by bed or chair then they obviously take priority. It’s particularly difficult at the moment because we have just invested over a million pounds to replace and modernise the lifts to make them more efficient for staff and patients. Whilst we're doing the work some lifts are, of course, out of action. The porters and visitors were remarkably patient and for that we sincerely thank you! The lads who took me on the stores run told me about the great team spirit that exists among the porters and they do quite a lot together socially. Apparently a DVD of them playing a football match exists somewhere so if anyone has a copy perhaps they would share it......!

Then off I went to work with the post-room porters who handle just shy of a million letters a year. They told me that on average 428 letters per month are returned to the post room due to incorrect addresses - I know that everyone recognises how vital it is to ensure the most up-to-date details are recorded but we know we aren't getting it right every time. Do let us know how we can make this easier to achieve either by the usual routes or to me directly via our Valuing Your Voice website. Some colleagues in the post-room expressed their frustration about why we have to send so many letters and results to GPs when we have the potential to do so electronically. I agree! It is high on our 'to do' list and we have a team from IT working with colleagues from the CCG to help us unblock those barriers that prevent us from doing so. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended!).


So then it was off to deal with waste and linen ....there's been a 31% increase in waste and getting worse as new developments come on line. The team does a non-clinical waste run 5 times a day to wards and departments and the first clinical waste run of the day starts at 6.30am. Down in the basement in the dirty-returns corridor where theatre put all their rubbish came my first opportunity to drive one of the trucks. I was going to have a go on the main corridor but they'd seen my previous blog about my experiences with the Master-Mover and decided they weren't going to take any chances! Not one to brag but I did a cracking 3point turn ..... and it was witnessed! It was a bit like whacky races avoiding people and bags of rubbish; let me tell you those machines can really shift!We were there to collect the dirty linen from the chute and as I watched bag after bag burst open and the contents were strewn everywhere. The porters tell me that this happens quite often and they have to pick up soiled bed linen and clothing by hand. I know how busy all our ward staff are but if you could tie a really tight knot in the top of the bag before sending it down the chute it would really help. If you have problems doing that with the bags we currently buy let Miles Timperley know and he will look at alternatives to help you.


So what other things to the porters do? Well one of the jobs is to deal with medical gases/liquid nitrogen and I went along to switch them over. There's something rather satisfying in moving a bank of used cylinders and replacing them with new tanks ready for the anaesthetic team to use. I had such a sense of how every element of the hospital contributes to the care and safety of patients.They manage the Bereavement Suite out of hours – accepting deceased people from the police and arranging viewings for relatives. They deal with all the fire incidents and attend as part of the cardiac arrest and severe bleed teams. They collect specimens and deliver bloods to the fridges. They move furniture and patients. There are specially trained staff to cover the full security duties for both sites.

They do on average 610 tasks a day including 253  patient moves, 1 cardiac arrest, 3 security incidents, 1 fire, 5 viewings of deceased patients, delivery of 13 air mattresses, delivery of 13 pink mattresses, movement of 24 empty beds, 8 requests for medical gases and 3 transfers of deceased patients. Did you know that they are introducing an upgrade to the PMS which means on the desktop of every computer there will be a porter track icon. The requests will soon be input at ward/department and sent to a porters radio as a text. This should considerably reduce miscommunication of information which will speed up the service.

It's not like the TV series ‘The Royal’ any longer; there isn't a room full of porters sitting waiting to be sent out. Just like every other department they have to make savings and be more efficient to help us keep our costs down. I think it’s quite a feat coordinating the number of porters we have and making sure we don’t have them running around unnecessarily!

The whole hospital is considered the porter’s work place, they go everywhere and get to know a huge variety of other staff from other areas. It's probably why the Portering Department seems to be the font of all knowledge and the answer to everything! If in doubt ‘ring the porters they’ll know’ seems to be the answer to most unusual questions or requests. Common ones are’ there’s an injured duck on the pond’, ‘pigeons on corridors’, ‘the toilets blocked’, ‘can you come and repair the lifts’, ‘the battery’s flat on my car’ or ‘I’ve got a puncture’ the list goes on and on it never ceases to amaze what they get asked about.....


Everyone I spoke to told me how much they enjoy doing their job. They must do because the average length of service is over 12 years, very few people move on from the department and in fact only 4 people have left in the last 2 years other than to retire. They told me they loved working here, they enjoy the variety as each day is never the same but most of all over and over and over again they told me how much they enjoyed working with their colleagues.


So what are the things that we can do to help?

  • Make sure the communication systems between the departments and porters include the relevant infection control information for each patient. It would be helpful for the porter to know before arriving on the ward if there is a need for any special precautions to keep our patients safe.
  • Take a look at the labelling in each fire alarm zone - sometimes it doesn't seem to make sense and although our teams understand it's not so easy for the newcomers!
  • We do need to look at the accommodation for the porters - I'm not sure that there's a matching chair or piece of furniture in the place! They get all the things that everyone else is throwing away. They are worth so much more than that.
  • There were some great ideas for cost improvement that came from the staff - I'm going to talk to Miles about taking it forward.

Every porter I spoke to or worked alongside made me feel proud that they had chosen to work in our hospitals. They were great fun and had great banter. I was overwhelmed by how dedicated and positive they were and humbled by their passion and commitment in improving the experience of our patients. We are very lucky to have them all.


Karen Partington