“The reactions from people is what makes it feel worthwhile”

Margie Leong Specialist Dietitian, Community Neurorehabilitation Team, Surrey Downs Health and Care

“My usual role is as a dietitian working as part of a neuro-rehabilitation team based at The Poplars in Epsom. We provide support and therapy to people in the community who have a neurological condition such as motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s or are recovering after a brain injury or stroke. My role is mainly supporting people whose condition makes it difficult for them to eat.

“For the last few weeks, on my ‘non-working’ days I have been giving vaccinations at the NHS Covid-19 vaccination centre at Epsom Downs Racecourse. led by CSH Surrey. Along with everyone else, I am longing for life to return to some kind of normality and this programme seems the way to achieve that. The preparation involved a fair amount of online training courses to learn about the vaccines, the protocols and the legal side too. There was also a practical session giving injections to a dummy arm which was helpful as it had been 30 years since I last did that during my previous career as a nurse!

“At the vaccination centre there is an atmosphere in the hall of efficiency and optimism. Everyone has a job to get on with, there’s no standing around but amidst the smooth running process there is good humour and a sense of relief and even excitement from people coming through. I’m full of admiration for the car park attendants standing outside, smiling and helpful, in the freezing cold as well as the volunteers, IT team and pharmacists inside who all keep the system moving.

“I have been choosing late shifts which start at 1.45pm with a quick handover from the lead of the morning team updating us on any issues and the sort of numbers of people coming through. Then it’s straight onto one of the 10 booths where the vaccinations are done. People are called through from the waiting area, we go through a checklist to ensure their suitability, explain potential side effects and gain consent and then give the jab. The staff rest area is in the betting room where we have a short break in the middle of the shift and then carry on until 8.15pm.

“The reactions from people is what makes it feel worthwhile. People are full of gratitude and praise for the system which is lovely to hear. For a good number, coming to the site is a welcome break from staying at home and we share amusement as what life has come to when a vaccination is the highlight of a social calendar. I met one elderly lady who told me it was the first time she had been out of the house since last March. I felt I should have been able to offer her more than a jab in the arm but she was happy anyway! A gentleman commented to me last week that it must be rather repetitive work but actually meeting so many people is now out of the ordinary and very enjoyable.

“Although in a way it’s an efficient ‘production line’ of people passing through, I hope that each person feels welcomed and given the time to feel comfortable and reassured. There are people who are nervous about needles or want to ask questions about the side effects or the vaccine’s efficacy. One lady I met was just about to leave after her jab when she mentioned that her husband had recently died of Covid – I made sure she sat back down and we had a chat about it and how she was coping.

“It’s heartening to be a small cog in the process that is the light at the end of the Covid tunnel. When you hear news that infection rates and hospitalizations are going down there’s a sense of hope that the situation is improving and that life will improve again – and the sooner the better.”