In February 2020, Alexia Epitropou was a business and first-class host in the cabin of an international airline. But once the Covid-19 pandemic began she, along with millions of others, were furloughed. Wanting to do her bit to help the NHS, Alexia joined Project Wingman – a volunteer scheme for furloughed cabin crew and pilots to offer support for NHS staff during their breaks from treating Covid-19 patients in dedicated lounges. One year on and Alexia is now a healthcare assistant (HCA) at the hospital she volunteered at, Harefield.
Why did you volunteer for Project Wingman?
It gave me some form of normalcy and routine during the pandemic; I would put my uniform on and go into Harefield Hospital three times a week and provide tea, cake and coffee or even just a chat for frontline staff. I could have volunteered at any hospital across London, but I chose Harefield because it was a small, specialist hospital. I loved getting to know the staff there and providing some form of help, they all seemed drained during that first wave of Covid-19.
How did you end up working at the hospital you volunteered for?
I was told by a couple of nurses that I would be great as a healthcare assistant (HCA) because of my customer care skills, and there was a job opening on Maple ward, the adult surgical unit. It was an honour to be considered and I was excited to apply. I was invited to an interview and was thrilled when I was offered the job and started in October 2020.
What does your role involve?
As a HCA I observe and record the health of patients as well as assisting nurses in caring for patients, both physically and emotionally. This can include prepping patients for surgery by taking bloods or swabbing patients for MRSA and Covid-19 and cleaning the surgical area. Once patients have had surgery, I check patients’ blood sugar levels, take electrocardiogram (ECG, a simple test that can be used to check the heart's rhythm), remove sutures (stitches) and drains, and help nurses with wound care. I also sit with patients and talk to them as many patients are often confused or disorientated after surgery once the anaesthesia wears off.
What is your favourite part about being a HCA?
I have to say my favourite part of the job is taking bloods from patients and inserting cannulas (tubes inserted into the body to deliver or remove fluid). Once I have a year’s experience of this, I can become a phlebotomist and take blood from patients to help in their diagnosis.
I also enjoy talking to patients, some patients are so talkative, and a conversation can really make your day. You end-up seeing patients more than your own family and everyone is so thankful and grateful, it really is a rewarding job.
Were you redeployed during Covid-19?
Yes, to help support staff on the frontline who were treating an influx of Covid-19 patients, I spent two months in ITU during the second wave of Covid-19. It was strange and quite surreal going from helping frontline staff relax on their breaks as a volunteer to being the one on the frontline. It was like something out of a film. The patients were very unwell. I used to cry every day from some of the things I saw and experienced, but you find other things to put your energy into to get you through it.
Was it difficult moving from customer service for an airline to healthcare?
Serving passengers is almost always positive, not including flight cancellations of course, but serving patients is different. There is more emotion involved because you see people when they are vulnerable, helpless. You get to know patients, it’s a different type of customer care – more memorable and meaningful – I’m now helping to saves patients’ lives.
There are some similarities though, as being first host meant dealing with stressful situations and a huge volume of people from all over the world, all of who had different needs. This prepared me well for the NHS!
What is the best thing about working at Harefield Hospital?
The staff are so nice, they genuinely care about each other and are all down to earth. They made me cake and sang Happy Birthday, no one has ever done that for me at a job before! I’m constantly taken aback by their selfless, caring nature.
Joining the NHS also meant I was re-trained for the first time in years, and I really enjoyed learning new skills that I can use in the future. There is so much career progression and I feel like the NHS needs me as much as I need the NHS, I’m a small part of a large well-oiled machine. I’ve already done my phlebotomy training and have now completed an anaesthetics course.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s never too late for a change. You’re never stuck in a job, there is so much more out there.