In the second of our series looking behind the curtain of your local NHS, we meet Katie Asher, patient care advisor in Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s contact centre.
If you’ve had an appointment at a hospital in Northumberland and North Tyneside, you’ll have been helped by the contact centre.
Based in the trust’s administrative HQ, the department manages hundreds of thousands of patient appointments every year.
The team gets involved as soon as a patient is referred to the trust for treatment, allocating an appointment for a clinic and sending a letter to the patient with everything they need to know.
With multiple sites and scores of specialities, it’s very busy.
“On a typical day – we receive nearly 400 calls by lunchtime,” said Katie, who is part of the 15-strong outpatient appointment team.
“I really like having constant contact with patients. Whilst most calls are straightforward, some are more complex and take a few calls within the trust and back to the patient. When this happens, you build a rapport with the patient and it’s a fantastic feeling when everything is sorted for them.
“Of course at our busiest times we can’t always assist as quickly as people would like. Many people we speak to are understandably nervous and sometimes this comes across as frustration or even anger. Though this can be hard, we really do empathise and will always do our very best to help.
“We also develop a good working relationship with the specialty teams – secretaries, nurses and consultants – and the contact centre is an integral part of the care we deliver.”
While answering calls to the contact centre number 0344 8118118 is a large part of Katie’s day-to-day work, there is more to the role.
Each patient care advisor has a speciality – Katie’s is rheumatology – and is responsible for managing capacity, making sure there aren’t any empty appointment slots and taking steps to create more appointments if possible.
With pressures across the NHS and more patients than ever requiring treatment, it’s vital that as many as possible appointments are filled to make the best use of resources and waiting times are the shortest they can be.
When gaps appear, Katie, and colleagues, will ring patients to see whether they’re able to come into hospital sooner.
Katie, who’s worked for the NHS for 10 years, said: “Most patients are really appreciative that they’re able to have their appointment before they thought they would.”
She added: “Having a central contact centre for patients to ring works really well for our trust and being part of the team feels like you’re at the hub of the action and able to make a difference to patients every single day.”