A day in the life of Debbie, who works as a personal assistant to our specialist team of consultants, and spends her working days juggling meetings, emails, diary scheduling, and administrative projects.

This diary was written in August 2020.

8am Arriving at the doors to Sobell, I put on a mask to walk to the personal assistant (PA) office. Everyone is really vigilant about following the NHS Trust guidelines – in the new world we’re all getting used to, it’s just one of the ways we can look after each other and our patients. I turn on my computer, grab a mug of tea, and check my emails. I’m lucky enough to work Monday to Thursday and enjoy my Friday’s off – but this means on a Monday morning I’ll normally have more than a hundred emails waiting for me! I quickly scan them and highlight any that need an urgent response on behalf of the consultants that morning.

8:30am My Monday morning also involves printing off the consultant calendars for the week and adding them to their office doors – for those who are in, it’s a chance to say good morning and catch up on any news.

9am My boss, Karen, the Admin Manager is great at ensuring she comes by the office at some point each morning to say hello and check how things are, swapping notes on the day’s priorities and workload. The last few months have really underlined the importance of being able to help out in other parts of the service; for example, in the last month I’ve had stints covering our main reception, ward phones and helping colleagues in lymphoedema scan inpatient files as part of our move towards being paperless. Getting a chance to see how another part of the Sobell team works is a good way to understand how the different parts of our service fit together. Being on main reception and talking to relatives is a great reminder of what really matters – providing a service for our patients and their family and friends.

9:30am Once a week I have scheduled time with each of the consultants I work for. On Monday morning I catch up with Bee, our lead consultant, to review the week ahead. My aim as a PA is to help take as many of the administrative tasks as possible from the clinical team and then be responsible for ensuring they’re completed (diplomatic nudging is a skill I have learnt!). This means the consultants can concentrate on patient care. We run through the constantly evolving list of actions and pending and diarised items for Bee – hopefully crossing off more items than we add! We review the week ahead and discuss meetings that are coming up to make sure everything’s in place. The consultant’s diaries are often filled with back-to-back meetings and patient appointments, so these few minutes are a precious opportunity to pause and plan ahead. For the last few months, Bee has been holding a weekly “drop-in” session on different days and times, where any members of staff or volunteers can pop by to speak to her about any issues or concerns they might have. We agree a date and time so I can email everyone about this week’s session. It’s a great example of how the leadership team care just as much about the welfare of the staff as our patients.

10am I work with my colleague, Rebecca, as one of two PAs to the consultants, registrars and specialty doctors who care for our patients. It’s a huge privilege to work with such talented and dedicated professionals and I’m proud to be part of the team. Due to social distancing, Rebecca and I are unable to work together in the PA office at the same time, so we tend to alternate days working from home and the office. Each Monday morning, we’ll phone to talk through the week’s priorities and see if the other needs help with any new or significant pieces of work. This week, the Trust have shared details of training which had been put on hold given the circumstances, but is now back on the agenda, and something for us to remind people about. We talk through how we can best send out lots of emails and track the responses, sharing out the tasks between us.

11am Tomorrow there’s a Clinical Governance meeting in the afternoon, so I spend some time making sure I’ve completed my final checks – do I have updates from everyone who had an action from the last meeting and copies of supporting documents for our agenda? Like everyone else, we’ve made the transition in the last six months to holding all of our meetings online – seeing a screen full of faces isn’t quite the same as being together in the same room but is the right (safe) thing to do!

The Clinical Governance monthly meetings give the team an opportunity to review patient safety, patient experience and clinical effectiveness. I love the team’s approach to honestly reviewing how things are going and constantly questioning if there are ways they can learn and improve things for patient care in the future.

12pm Another mug of tea helps while I read through papers from last year’s Patient Experience project. I worked with colleagues to coordinate the introduction of a nationally recognised patient experience survey across a number of our key services, to help give us valuable feedback from patients about what we do and ideas on how we might improve. We agreed to repeat the process annually, and whilst October seems quite a long way away, I know there’ll be quite a few things to prepare if we’re going to be ready to roll out the survey again, especially since the way we deliver our services has changed since Covid-19. I start a list of actions for the next day!

1:30pm I take a quick lunch break before the afternoon meetings start!

2pm I join the regular team leaders’ meeting to take minutes. The items on the agenda can vary enormously, reflecting the breadth of issues the team manage on a daily basis. This month’s discussion topics include plans to expand support for our team through supervision, and relaunching the use of an app that allows each member of Sobell staff to tell us how their day’s been. There’s debate about how the daily safety Microsoft Team calls can be expanded and applied for the benefit of non-patient-facing colleagues and I make a note of all the actions agreed.

3pm Next on my list of tasks is to reschedule meetings for the senior management team throughout the next two months – diary juggling is a regular occurrence, to ensure all the important things continue to get done, whilst finding time for new things to be fitted in!

I love the variety the job involves – each day is different. During the last few months, with the help of our charity team, traders from Headington Market have been incredibly kind and donated food and drink for the hard-working team as a way of saying thank you for what they do. I send out an email to let people know what goodies can be expected and they’re always well received!

4pm I joined the Sobell team just over two years ago and have loved every minute – the time always goes quickly and before I know it, my working day is over! Seeing on a daily basis the care and compassion everyone has for our patients and their relatives is inspiring. I also know from personal experience how wonderful the service that Sobell provides is, as my late husband and I benefitted from support and care from Sobell five years ago. It was one of the main reasons why I jumped at the chance to join the team when the opportunity arose.

As I drive home I reflect that if in some small way I’ve contributed behind the scenes to allow the medical team to provide a similar experience for other patients and their families, it’s been a very worthwhile day.