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After two national lockdowns and with the months ahead looking more uncertain than ever, one thing we can all agree on is a renewed appreciation for our amazing national health service.
This year has seen the country clap in unison for our frontline health and care workers and their tireless work during the pandemic - work that will continue on Christmas Day while the rest of us enjoy a welcome break.
For many NHS workers, working on Christmas day is part of the job, albeit a little more festive than usual. December is always an incredibly busy period for the NHS, but this year is busier than ever due to growing numbers of Covid-19 cases.
Let's hear it for the incredible women working to keep us safe this Christmas...
Lottie, 23, paramedic for the West Midlands Ambulance Service
Lottie, 23, is a paramedic for the West Midlands ambulance service and she will be working on Christmas Day. Both her parents work as nurses in the NHS and working over the festive season was part of family life.
"Growing up in my household, Christmas was a little bit different than everyone else's," she says.
Lottie and her family would have their Christmas celebrations a couple days early or late depending on the working pattern of her parents. "Depending on what day of the week it was I would go to work with one parent and come home with the other after hand over which was always quite fun from a child's perspective."
Seeing her parents work throughout December helped to normalise it for Lottie, who has worked every Christmas Day but one since she was 17.
At Christmas time, Lottie sees more elderly patients than usual. "They are quite grateful that we're there," she says. "We get the odd 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy New Year'; people tend to be quite cheery around this time of year. Nobody wants to be poorly and they try their hardest, but sometimes you can't help being ill."
The first lockdown was relatively quiet, says Lottie, but work has got steadily busier in recent months.
"The tier system is helping, but the true struggle is the people that don't listen to the rules and sort of break it. And that's where the problem is and that's where we are struggling," she says.
Zara, 23, surgical nurse at Newham University Hospital
Zara, 23, has a background as a surgical nurse but was redeployed to the Intensive Care Unit following the Covid-19 outbreak. She now works as a junior sister in Acute and Chronic Pain Services at Newham University Hospital in east London.
"It only seems like yesterday I was at graduation," says Zara. "When the first wave hit, it was all very, very quick and unexpected. It got to a point where the number of cases started to increase and there was a lot more support needed in high-risk areas like the Intensive Care Unit."
Last year Zara worked a long day shift on Christmas Day and this year she will be working a night shift, starting on Christmas Eve going into the morning of the 25th.
"Working on Christmas Day reminds me how special it is to be a nurse," she says. "I don't see it as a sacrifice or [that] I will be away from my family. I see it as my patients are in hospital, and I have the responsibility to care for them while they are away from their loved ones.
"We enter into this profession knowing that there will be special occasions, birthdays, gatherings that we will miss because the NHS is a 24-7 running service.
"No one wants to be in hospital, particularly on Christmas Day. So it's our responsibility to care for patients on a special day when they are away from their family. "
Last year, Zara's hospital was bedecked with sparkly tinsel and decorations; and there will still be plenty of festive cheer this year, too.
"All the nurses have been allowed to wear Christmas accessories," says Zara. "Those small things can make a really big difference."
Navandeep, 28, maternity care assistant at Leicester General Hospital
Navandeep, 28, is a maternity care assistant at Leicester General Hospital. Originally from Wolverhampton, she previously worked at Birmingham Children's A&E before starting her new job in February this year - just weeks before the nation went into lockdown.
"I [experienced] a few weeks of what the job is like before Covid," Navandeep says. "It was interesting to get a grasp on a new role as well as all the new policies coming around, the PPE, and having to take a stand back approach, instead of being used to being hands-on with babies and women.
"It was certainly completely different to anything that we've experienced before. I'm sure other health care workers can vouch for that as well."
This year Navandeep will be working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; and knows from past experience it will be a busy time: "We spend our time being with the children, supporting the children, making it a really exciting period, lifting their spirits.
"Women are really excited to give birth and the thought of having a baby on Christmas Day must be really exciting for them as well. I think all in all, it's just that nice team work atmosphere that you have working around Christmas period."
This year will be different, however, with fewer decorations and reduced visitor numbers.
"I think it's really going to be tough for women who will have to spend Christmas Day in hospital," Navandeep admits.
But there are still heartwarming moments that remind her why she first got into the profession: "Being able to be part of such an intimate moment, seeing women give birth is so heartwarming. The women allow you to be by their side to support them.
"With the rules on visiting being restricted, women have really relied on us now more than ever before."
Lottie, Navandeep and Zara are supporting NHS England's 'We Are The NHS' campaign. To find out more about a career in the NHS, please search 'NHS Careers' or visit We Are The NHS to find available roles and training support on offer.
Featured Image Credit: University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust/@nursezara_uk/@_lottiieee_
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