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Housekeeper role created by senior nurse has eased pressure on trust's A&E staff

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Creating a new housekeeper role has helped accident and emergency nurses and doctors concentrate on delivering the best care to patients, says a senior A&E nurse.

Julie O’Donoghue, now divisional nurse for ambulatory and emergency care at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, created the role of housekeeper about seven years ago while working as emergency department matron.

“The idea was to put the infrastructure in place to support clinical practice

Julie O’Donoghue

Ms O’Donoghue told Nursing Times that the trust had previously had problems with workforce efficiency, because nurses and doctors were “doing things they shouldn’t have to do”.

“The clinical team was picking up things like broken equipment and things not being ordered,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to get on and deliver really good care and a way of doing that was to develop this new role.

“The idea was to put the infrastructure in place to support clinical practice and ensure that when nurses went to a cupboard all the stuff they needed was there,” she said.

Ms O’Donoghue spotted the potential of hospital coffee shop worker Octavia Goncalves who became the trust’s first housekeeper and helped shape the role

London North West Healthcare NHS Trust

Nurse was inspired to swap hospital coffee shop for ward

Octavia Gonclaves

“You could tell Octavia was a bright, intelligent girl. She was very organised, picked things up quickly, had amazing communication skills and was really good at building relationships,” she said.

“She became my right-hand person and I couldn’t have done my matron role without her,” she said. “We built the housekeeper role together and she made it what it is today, which is a very well-respected role within the trust – they are ‘can do’ and will do and provide vital support to clinical teams.”

Ms Goncalves has since gone on to train and qualify as a nurse and now works on one of the wards where she was a housekeeper, as previously reported by Nursing Times.

She has continued to help train other housekeepers and the trust now has seven whole-time equivalent housekeeping staff working in ambulatory and emergency care at Northwick Park Hospital and Ealing Hospital.

Ms O’Donoghue said the role was a way of bringing people with potential, like Ms Goncalves, into the health service and believes other trusts could benefit from creating similar jobs.

“People assume the housekeeper role is about cleaning – it’s not,” she noted. “When you think of a housekeeper role in hotel, then they are an integral part of what happens and that is the case with housekeepers within our divisions. They are the glue that holds everything together.”

“They are the glue that holds everything together”

Julie O’Donoghue

Ms O’Donoghue said she was keen to make the role as flexible as possible to attract talented individuals, such as women returning to work after having children.

“You find some real jewels who may not have considered working for the health service, such as mums who had a really good career and great skills, but can’t do nine to five now they have kids,” she said.

“Our housekeepers do their hours when they can,” she said. “This is not about saying you have to come in at 9am and finish at 5pm, it’s about looking at the person and what they can bring to the role.”

Several housekeepers have gone on to other roles in the NHS, including one now involved in hospital governance.

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