Manning the switchboard at Tayside’s biggest and busiest hospital is a tough gig – no doubt about it.
As a first point of call for many people, switchboard staff at Ninewells have to deal with a multitude of requests, ranging from lifesaving emergencies to the downright bizarre.
“Visitors to the hospital think we know everything, I’ve even had someone ask me for the bus timetable,” said Pat Sweeney.
Pat and Gillian Ford, who has worked nightshifts for the NHS Tayside switchboard for the past 13 years, spoke to the Tele about what goes on behind the scenes.
Gillian, who comes from the Douglas area of Dundee, said: “We are the first point of contact when you dial into the hospital.
“A lot of people think when you dial in it is only for Ninewells, but we actually answer calls for all the sites across Tayside.
“Sometimes when people call in we have to ask a lot of questions to make sure we get them to the right place, and they can get a bit annoyed.
“We also have to deal with a lot of calls that are not that pleasant.
“People can be upset because of family things they are having to deal with, or people who are frustrated because they don’t know where they are meant to go.
“We get a lot of emotional callers who are trying to find out where their family member is, and because I work night shifts I get a lot of drunk callers too.
“I have been working there for 13 years but I still get asked for things I have never heard of before.”
Pat Sweeney, who is also from Dundee, said: “I don’t know if we ever have a normal day in the switchboard.
“It can sometimes be quiet, just like any other workplace, but sometimes it can be calls constantly.
“We also have to deal with emergencies, so for instance if there is an emergency coming into A&E that comes through to the switchboard and we have to make sure the right emergency team is there ready for them and we need to make sure we know the estimated time of arrival.
“It is a very interesting job but it can also be quite upsetting, particularly if there is an emergency in the labour suite – sometimes we get a call to say there has been a massive haemorrhage there and we have to get the emergency team to them.
“Once we have done our bit we never know what the eventual outcome is, but we always hope it is positive.
“We know they are in the best hands.”
Gillian continued: “The emergency phone needs to be answered within two rings, so if you are on a general everyday call you have to put that person on hold and answer the emergency phone instead.
“We get all different kinds of emergencies within a hospital, and we are the first point of call on that side of things which a lot of people don’t know we do, they think we just answer to the public.
“There is a lot of responsibility there, because we can’t get it wrong.”
Just like most areas of the NHS, both Gillian and Pat have seen a difference in the work they do during the coronavirus lockdown.
Pat said: “To start with it was pretty manic because people didn’t know what was going on.
“A lot of the wards changed to Covid-19 wards so they could keep all the coronavirus patients in the same area and that was a challenge for the switchboard because we didn’t always know a ward had changed.
“It has been an interesting few months.”
Gillian said: “During lockdown I have noticed different kinds of calls coming through, so we had a Covid response team to work with.
“We were not getting as many GPs calling to admit patients into the hospital because not as many people were going to their doctors or they were reluctant to put a patient into hospital.
“Coming into the hospital during lockdown was strange.
“Normally you would see patients and visitors on the concourse or in the shops, but it was like a ghost town.
“But we didn’t see a difference in the way we work because someone still needs to be manning the emergency phone 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”