The sharp end of volunteering

During the week you’ll find her in front of a computer, but at the weekends Ali Heggie is at the sharp end of volunteering in the fight against Covid.

At the time of this blog, more that 41 million people in the UK had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with almost 30 million having received their second dose. This is all thanks to the huge army of volunteers and NHS workers who’ve been trained to give the jabs.

One of those fantastic volunteers is our very own Creative Director, Ali Heggie.

So, why does someone with no previous medical training sign up to support the vaccination effort? And how does it feel to stick a needle into a stranger’s arm?

We’ve been asking Ali all about her experiences.

What motivated you to become a Covid vaccinator volunteer?

There were many reasons, but one was highly personal. I wanted to repay the NHS for the care and treatment they’d given to my late husband Dave. 

In addition, like most people, I got fed up with the grip that Covid has had on our lives, and I wanted to do anything I could to speed up the roll out of the vaccines. 

I also saw it as a way of protecting my son, my family, friends, and strangers alike. I know many people who’ve suffered from the effects of Covid, some to an extreme degree. That was a real kick-starter for me. 

Did you previously have links with St John’s Ambulance?

Yes, I’d done two First Aid at Work courses run by St John’s Ambulance to qualify as one of Forepoint’s First Aid responders at work.

What process did you had to go through: (a) to volunteer (b) to be trained?

I initially received an open email from St John’s asking if I’d be interested in volunteering as a vaccinator. I then had to apply online, providing my history, qualifications, reasons for applying, previous courses undertaken, and I also had to complete a DBA security check. 

Once I’d cleared the initial hurdles, I then had a Zoom interview with a lovely chap from St John’s, before being invited to participate in an extensive online e-learning course where I learned all about the vaccines; how they’re produced, stored, administered, possible side effects, and the legal side of things. I then completed a practical one-day course, covering the various first aid skills I’d need to deal with things like anaphylaxis reactions, along with other patient care topics. 

I also had great fun learning how to don and remove the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the correct way, how to keep the vaccination area sterile, and finally, finally, how to inject with a syringe. Thankfully the artificial arm never felt a thing.

What was your biggest fear when you were first let loose on the public?

There was quite a delay between qualifying as a vaccinator and my first shift, so I’d started to become quite worried that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to stick a needle into a stranger’s arm. This was strange when you consider that I’d already had to inject my husband’s stomach several times after a major cancer op, but I knew his tummy was numb. Injecting into the arms of strangers was a completely different prospect. 

What has been your favourite moment?

My overall experience at the vaccinator unit in Preston has been great. The staff there are extremely welcoming and caring, they’ve made my final step to being a qualified volunteer vaccinator so much easier than I’d imagined.

Do you have any amusing stories to share?

I obviously can’t talk about individual events for confidentiality reasons. And I’m also proud of everyone that has come to get their jabs. Generally, it’s been quite amusing to see the reactions of people, some of whom have got themselves all worked up about the needle – they’re then really shocked when they get told that it’s all done and dusted as they hadn’t felt a thing.

Did you volunteer in your own time?

Yes, this was all done in my own time. It was very much a personal choice to do it. Forepoint have, as ever, been very supportive. And of course, it was Forepoint that made it possible in the first place by sending me to the original First Aid at Work courses. 

What has the experience taught you? 

This has challenged and tested me to the limit. There have been times when I’ve questioned why I was putting myself through all the extra pressure, but it all comes back to a desire to get us out of this dreadful Covid environment. 

It’s shown me that I’m not too old to learn new tricks, and that in general people are wonderful. I found the atmosphere of cooperation, unity and support shown at the vaccination centre, from both staff and citizens very moving.

What do you plan to do once the work is over? 

I’d really like to continue volunteering. I think the army of volunteers has been created with the intention of freeing up the majority of Health Care Professionals so that they can go back to their normal NHS roles. We’ll always be required to be fully supervised, but we can help to take more of the strain of the vaccination roll-out, and any follow-up boosters that need to follow.

All volunteers must meet strict selection criteria, mandated by the NHS, and all receive appropriate clinical training. This includes official courses developed in partnership with and approved by NHS England. As well as extensive training, they are subject to assessments and clinical supervision to ensure their own safety and that of everyone receiving the vaccine.

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