When Robbie Woods arrives at his desk at the James Paget today, his focus is on improving the hospital’s systems and processes, for the benefit of both patients and staff.
As one of the Transformation Team, Robbie has been involved in numerous projects, recently helping the hospital maximise use of its operating theatres, and introducing an SMS text messaging services for patients, reminding them to attend their upcoming appointments so that slots do not go to waste.
But his career at the Paget started very differently - as one of the first chefs in the hospital’s brand new kitchens.
Robbie started work as a pastry chef (pictured above) before the hospital had even welcomed its first patients, working under Head Chef Dave Caton, who moved across with Robbie from Northgate Hospital.
“With no patients on site and no patients to feed, it was a strange period as we became accustomed to the large equipment and how things worked,” said Robbie.
“As our full brigade of chefs was split with a number continuing to work at the old General Hospital site in Yarmouth, the new chefs were all from local hotels and restaurants - and I can recall many of them complaining about their legs aching as they had to walk so far each day within the kitchen compared to the small compact kitchens they had come from!”
As everything was new, the catering team not only had to develop menus but also the logistics to deliver hundreds of meals to patients at meal times, right across the hospital site.
“We didn’t know where the wards were or what sequence we would use to deliver food trolleys. I can recall us doing trial runs and testing food temperatures as we went to ascertain the most efficient and effective routes,” said Robbie.
“We also did trial runs for the patient meal conveyor belt, where we would send 400 trays down with empty plates and cutlery and load the trolleys just to get our timings right.”
When the hospital first opened, there was a coffee lounge directly beneath the kitchen, in what is now the Broadland Suite. There, the catering team ran “the Gourmet Club”, serving high-quality meals to local dignitaries and business leaders, who paid for the four-course dinners which were all created upstairs in the hospital kitchens.
“These were extremely successful, led by the Chief Executive and got local people involved in the hospital. We would run maybe three every year but I am pretty sure we wouldn’t get an alcohol licence now!,” said Robbie.
But it wasn’t all work. Robbie can still recall annual five-a-side football tournaments which took place on the green at the rear of the hospital, with great rivalry between departments. The hospital also entered a couple of teams for the Gorleston raft race, with staff from various departments teaming up to spend weeks building their craft for the big day.
Robbie left the James Paget after 10 years to pursue a career in management at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Kings Lynn, where he left catering behind and went into Operational Management.
However, the lure of the Paget remained strong - and he returned to the hospital where he has now completed another decade of service.
“I always look back on my early days at the Paget with the fondest of memories,” said Robbie. “But, when I came back, I was not surprised to find the same warm, friendly and caring atmosphere still prevails.”
You can hear more from Robbie in our video below.
Workforce Business Partner Helen Cruess is one of a handful of staff who have worked at the James Paget since it was officially opened in July 1982.
It was during that month that Helen first walked through the front doors of the hospital - having to cross a picket line, where staff were joining a national protest about low pay.
Her first role was secretary to the District Patient Services Officer. She quickly progressed to become an administration officer at a time when everything was paper-based and computer systems were very much in their infancy.
“There wasn’t an IT department in those days - and, in fact, we only had one computer system called the Patient Admin System,” recalled Helen.
The system was used to update the Regional Health Authority on the daily bed numbers - but even that relied on paper returns completed by ward clerks.
More promotion followed, with Helen taking on the role of Medical Secretaries Leader.
Again, technology was still some way off.
“The team were using manual typewriters and progressing to electric machines, there were no computers then,” said Helen. “We used to have regular visits from the typewriter engineers who would make repairs and carry out services - like today’s photocopier engineers.”
While in this role, Helen worked with the Surgical Secretaries to implement their first computer system, which stored patient details which helped the teams generate patient discharges summaries.
“This wasn’t a nationally procured system, linking up departments or even other hospitals. It was a standalone system, designed by a local company. If it developed a problem, the solution was to turn it on and off - and, if that didn’t work, call the guy who built it to come and get it going again.”
As the hospital grew and developed, Helen’s role evolved with it. In 1995, she left the world of admin to specialise in HR, which at that time was known as personnel.
Helen became one of the hospital’s first Personnel Officers, along with Debbie Wilby and Denise Attew.
It is in this field that Helen has progressed her career at the James Paget, becoming a senior human resources officer in 1999. In this role, Helen was responsible for implementing the ‘Improving Working Lives’ initiative, which saw improvements including the installation of water fountains across the Trust and a picnic table for staff to use during their breaks, outside the Education and Training Centre.
Now working as a Workforce Business Partner, Helen looks back at her time at the Paget with a great deal of pride, with many happy memories - as well as a few adventures off-site.
“I can remember going over to the old Northgate Hospital to get some patient notes - and we had to ensure we walked around the edge of the room as the floor was weak in the middle - and if we stood on it, there was a danger it would collapse.
“And, I had to help bail out the lift at the old Lowestoft Hospital, when there were still patients there, after there was a bad storm one night.”
Helen can also recall the many fund-raising events held over the years for different wards and departments. She was involved in several charity bed pushes around Great Yarmouth - and can remember football tournaments between departments as part of the Trust’s annual fete, brightly-decorated floats entered for local carnivals - and evenings in the social club at the Burrage Centre.
Overall, the Paget is a place where Helen has enjoyed a fulfilling career and where she has had the opportunity to achieve her professional qualifications.
“It’s the people that make the Paget what it is,” said Helen. “We are like a family.”
“There have been some turbulent times at the hospital but what keeps you going is believing that in a small way what you are doing helps and supports the staff who are giving hands-on care to patients, so they can do the best they can.”
Ian Walker has been part of the team at the James Paget since it first opened its doors. For more than four decades, he was part of the hospital’s theatres team, helping surgeon perform life-saving operations. But when not in this theatre ‘scrubs’, Ian was brightening the hospital’s corridors with paintings by local artists, including himself. It’s a role he continues to play as Chair of the hospital’s Arts Committee.
It was May 1978 - three years before the James Paget opened - when Ian first walked into the main operating theatres at the old Yarmouth General Hospital on Deneside as a Trainee Operating Department Assistant (now known as Operating Department Practitioners).
“I was the new boy and somewhat nervous as I entered the hallowed halls of surgery,” recalled Ian.
“I was greeted by a kind Gynaecological surgeon, John Breeze, who took one look at me and said in a very friendly voice ‘ Good morning to you young man, please take this’ and promptly thrust into my hand what I would soon learn was a metal kidney dish containing an internal organ he had just removed. To this I replied, I suppose in a typical English manner ‘Thank you very much’, which brought forth a round of laughter from all in theatre. That was the beginning of my forty years working in an environment like no other.”
The operating theatres at Deneside were basic - and a far cry from the modern facilities that awaited theatre staff when they transferred to the James Paget in 1981, not only from the Yarmouth General but hospitals in Gorleston and Lowestoft too.
“At the old Yarmouth General and the other hospitals, our equipment and facilities were so basic that today they would not have been allowed. For instance our rest room was literally the small male changing room and cupboard that also doubled up as the storeroom for the gas cylinders for the anaesthetic machines!” said Ian.
“There were no piped anaesthetic gases available in those days with which to anaesthetise the patients. Once we had anaesthetised the patient in an extremely small anaesthetic room we moved into the theatre where the patient’s vital signs were monitored with just three pieces of equipment, namely a manual sphygmomanometer (blood pressure machine), a pulse meter (to count the pulse) and an old ECG machine.
“This was the sum total of our patient monitoring which today would be deemed totally inadequate. However our patients received the best of care and underwent minor and major surgery using such basic equipment and they survived and they went home very thankful.”
On moving over to the Paget, operating theatre staff could scarcely believe what they now had, with brand new facilities and the latest equipment.
“It seemed like we had reached heaven!” said Ian.
As part of Paget 40, Ian and a colleague have kindly crafted a series of articles which provide snapshots from careers spent as Theatre Practitioners. The articles record some of the technological developments and improvements over the decades at the James Paget - and comparison with what existed at the old district hospitals it replaced. You can read these stories here.
Toni Ogogo’s life is entwined with the history of the James Paget Hospital.
She was born at the hospital in 1987 - the first baby to be born on the Easter Sunday that year.
By that time, the hospital had been operating for five years. But the Maternity Department had been a late arrival, transferring from the Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth several years after the James Paget opened its doors to the first patients.
Scroll forward 35 years, and Toni now spends her days caring for patients at the Paget, as a sister on Ward 16.
“Growing up, I knew I always wanted to be a nurse, following in my Mum’s footsteps. She was a psychiatric nurse and loved her job and I wanted to be like her. I pursued my dream and qualified myself in 2008,” said Toni, who lives in Pakefield, Lowestoft.
In between times, Toni has had many life experiences at the hospital, where she has also worked on Ward 15 as well as supporting the COVID-19 vaccination hub at the Louise Hamilton Centre.
“The James Paget has as special place in my heart,” she said. “Both of my grandparents lived out the end of their lives here, and were shown very compassionate palliative care.
“At the other end of the spectrum, I gave birth to two of my four children at the hospital; I also had a home birth that was supported by the hospital team and again very attentive care was received.”
Looking ahead, Toni sees her future very much at Paget.
“I enjoy it here and like the fast pace of working in an acute hospital - and have been lucky to work with some great teams,” she said.
“I am also a home bird. I love living in this area - particularly the beach, where I really enjoy walking my Mum’s dog.”
Senior Sister Beverley Gray pledged her future to her local hospital at the tender age of 14.
When she was a child, Beverley was clear on what she wanted to be when she grew up: a nurse at her local hospital.
So, when an opportunity to attend an open day at the brand new James Paget Hospital came up, Beverley jumped at the chance.
Accompanied by her dad and younger sister, Beverley enjoyed a tour of the hospital and found it ‘amazing'.
“At the end, the gentleman who gave us the tour said: ‘well, that is the end of your tour - and I hope I never have to see you here again.’ I then piped up: ‘I hope you see me because I want to be a nurse and work here!’”
Four years later, Beverley’s dream came true when she started her nurse training at the Paget - and she has stayed at the hospital ever since.
Early on in her career, Beverley decided that she wanted to care for patients undergoing surgery, in particular those undergoing procedures resulting in a same-day discharge.
In 1998, she started work in the hospital’s Day and Emergency Unit - located in what is now the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit - before moving to a brand new Day Unit, which opened in 2003 on the site now occupied by Ward 22.
However, as the number of procedures and operations being conducted as ‘day cases’ - where patients have their operation and leave hospital on the same day - grew, it became clear that a new facility would be needed to cope with the increasing demand.
As a result, a new £8 million day case theatres complex was constructed, opening in 2015. Constructed as a vertical extension at the back of the hospital, the complex features three operating theatres - and is where Beverley spends her working days as the Senior Sister, overseeing a team of 14 staff.
“Caring for day case patients is my passion - as I see first-hand how it benefits them,” said Beverley.
“When I first started my career, if a patient had an operation on their gall bladder, they would be in hospital for seven days. Now, the patient goes home the same day, which is not only better for them but helps reduce demand on the hospital’s bed capacity too.
“Patients do not want to be in hospital for any longer than is necessary. They want to go home as soon as they can. Some are extremely nervous or worried - but the thought that they will be going home on the same day as their operation gives them great comfort,” she said.
The list of operations that can be undertaken as day cases at the James Paget continues to expand: recently, knee replacements and prostate biopsies have been added to an ever-expanding list of procedures in specialisms including gynaecology, dentistry, orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat, ophthalmology and breast surgery.
“The list is only going to increase in the future, benefiting more and more of our patients,” added Beverley.
Lisa Ashcroft and Julie Peek
Theatre Nurses Lisa Ashcroft and Julie Peek have cared for countless surgical patients since the James Paget’s operating theatres first opened.
Lisa and Julie have worked together throughout the hospital’s 40 years - and before that, were colleagues at the Lowestoft and North Suffolk Hospital.
They moved across to the Paget when the Lowestoft Hospital’s operating theatre closed in December 1981 - just two weeks before Great Yarmouth General closed its theatres too.
“It was an exciting time,” said Lisa. “We came from a small, very old local hospital with one operating theatre where we scrubbed and washed instruments, made up trays and sterilised them in our own theatre autoclave.
“It was amazing to be in a large, newly-built district general hospital with pre-packed, sterilised instrument sets being delivered directly from a Hospital Sterilising and Decontamination Unit to our complex of seven theatres.”
Julie recalled that Lowestoft was a small friendly hospital, where everyone knew everyone.
“There were some concerns as to how the staff from the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth hospitals would gel. However, there were no problems and the two teams bonded and worked well together.
“When we transferred, we were told that the hospital was built to last 25 years - little did we know then that we would still be working here more than 40 years later! During this time, there have been many changes but the James Paget still remains the friendly and welcoming hospital it was all those years ago,” she added.