"The NHS means family": a profile of Jeanette Roberts, Head of Patient Flow at the Royal

Last night’s episode of BBC Two’s Hospital showcased the ever increasing demand that the NHS is facing. With patient admissions at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital up by 7% and winter pressures adding to the strain, the patient flow team is a critical element to keeping the hospital functioning.

Jeanette and her husband Mal, who works in patient records at the RoyalLed by Jeanette Roberts, head of patient flow, transfer and discharge for both Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Broadgreen Hospital, the team help control the movement of patients in hospital as they progress through their care and to subsequent discharge.

It’s a role that brings with it pressure of managing beds numbers with a high volume of patients coming through the door, alongside the satisfaction of getting patients back home to their loved ones and creature comforts at the earliest opportunity. For Jeanette, after working here for 34 years, what is it really like?

“I completed my training here at what was the school of nursing, which is now where the Linda McCartney Centre stands. I fully qualified in March 1988 and my first ‘job’ was on ward 6a, which was known then as gerontology (caring for ageing adults); and after all these years, that’s still where my heart sits as a nurse.”

It’s that compassion for patients that makes Jeanette a well-known and much loved colleague within the hospitals, and it still plays a massive part in her role: “They say a nurse is born…that’s very old-fashioned, it’s what my mum and dad would have said. But the passion you have cannot be taught. Whether it was back then as a registered nurse or now working in patient flow; I’m still always around people that care, have that passion and are prepared to go the extra mile to support a patient’s journey.”

As head of the patient flow team, part of Jeanette’s job is to help get those patients who no longer need hospital care, back home or to a community setting (such as a care home), where it is the best place to continue their recovery.

“When patients become medically well, if at all possible we want to get them back home and will work with patients and family to help make that happen. However sometimes discharge could be delayed and patients cannot leave hospital because other necessary care, support or accommodation is not readily accessible – which results in patients staying in hospital longer than they need to. It’s not always in the best interests of the patient for them to remain in hospital if they no longer need to be here.”

Research has found that for every ten days of bed rest in hospital, older patients can suffer the equivalent of ten years of muscle ageing – this can make a big difference in how independent you are after leaving hospital.

To help people understand the discharge process, the Trust has developed a patient booklet which is being used across all acute adult trusts in North Mersey to let patients know what to expect during their stay in hospital and how they can prepare to leave, once they are better.

“I know what it’s like to have loved ones in hospital. This hospital has looked after my mum, my dad and my brother-in-law. They had the best care in here. It can be a difficult time and we want to make the journey a safe and seamless one.

“There’s nothing like those home comforts we all miss when we’re in hospital. Something as simple as wearing your own clothes can help you focus on getting home. For any relatives with loved ones in hospital – are you able to pick them up on their day of discharge? A small thing such as this can help to get them home faster and back into familiar surroundings.”

For Jeanette, the NHS means family. Alongside her NHS family of patients and work colleagues, her husband, Mal works in health records, and her two sons also work at the Royal, one in the labs and the other a clinic clerk.

“I didn’t come from an NHS family; we’re now an NHS family. It’s the same here in Liverpool, its familial this town; it hasn’t changed – and that what makes us special. As long as you instil into any member of staff to make sure the patients are at the centre of everything and keep doing it, you will be in this job for your life. And 34 years on, I still have the passion to make a difference.”


Jeanette’s patient story:

“In August 1988, I was a 19 year old student nurse and there was a patient called Mary who was next to another lady called Christine, a 68 year old who, like Mary, had breast cancer and said she’s ‘had a cat scratch’ even though she was terminally ill.

I came in on early shift on a Sunday morning, the day of my 19th birthday, and they’d bought me a card and a cake. My buzzer went off and, as I went into the room, Mary was leaning over the bed and couldn’t breathe. I leaned over her and she kept saying ‘I’m going to die’. I was the only one in the room, so I held her hand and stayed with her and as she passed away, she pushed the table and it knocked me over and she fell on me. Christine tried to get her oxygen and helped pick her up.

Eventually we managed to get her carefully back into the bed and did the last bit of nursing care you will ever do for a patient; saying goodbye. I took home the card, the cake and a little container of talc Mary had bought me to say thank you and I cried buckets. I considered whether to stay in nursing that day. I told my mum and she didn’t quite get it so she said to me: ‘You’ve just got to decide what to do. You, young lady need to decide if you’re going to make a difference in your life or do what I did and work in a sweet factory.’

I was back in the next day and I never looked back. That was the only time I was shaken enough to consider packing it in. I’ve looked forward to coming in here every day since. It was an awful experience but I knew I was holding her hand when she died, that’s what mattered. I’ve still got that talc.”