COVID-19 is a pandemic the likes of which has never been experienced before. We crave accurate and up-to-the minute information as witnessed by the numbers of people who have tuned into the daily briefings from Downing Street. Politicians are debating what is the correct thing to do, yet, if we are honest, no-one can know for sure what is the best course of action. Hindsight will, as ever, be the only winner in the political argument.

Whilst 2020 has been challenging for everyone it is undeniable that as a society, it is in times like these, people step up to make a positive difference. We are all in awe of the frontline medical staff and other emergency services personnel who continue to work tirelessly to help those suffering from Coronavirus.

Outside of frontline staff, an army of volunteers has been mobilised to help others get through this most difficult of times. The NHS has faced unprecedented numbers of calls and has set up helplines offering accurate information and vital reassurance for people.

These helplines are being staffed by volunteers who want to make and be the difference. One such volunteer is Hilary Poulton who works for Novo Nordisk as a Manager and Diabetes Education Nurse Facilitator. Living with type 2 diabetes herself, Chilham-based Hilary knows first-hand the challenges and concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented and it was an easy decision for her to volunteer to become an NHS Helpline operator:

“I have type 2 diabetes, so often I can relate to what people who are ringing through to the helpline are going through. Given the apparent high prevalence of people living with diabetes and COVID-19, there is general concern among the diabetes community. Some of the information has however been conflicting for people who are living with diabetes and it is quite a scary time for us all. One of the most rewarding aspect of the helpline for me has been having the ability to make a difference to somebody’s life, even if it is just picking up a call to provide a little reassurance.”

Hilary is full of praise for her employer Novo Nordisk which operates in the healthcare space who are fully behind the initiative 

“Novo Nordisk’s mission is to always put patients first and I can say this is absolutely true! It is ingrained into all of our activities, and the helpline is a fantastic example of this. Novo Nordisk have supported us in blocking out our time during the agreed shifts; the helpline takes priority.”

COVID-19 has touched not only Hilary’s life but also that of her colleagues, some of whom have lost family and friends to the disease so she has been channelling her energy to support not only her colleagues, but also others by working with the Diabetes NHS Helpline as a mechanism of getting her through the difficult time. 

She is not, however, a stranger to volunteering as she is also an active in her local community through her church helping the homeless. Hilary also knits and sews clothes for the special baby care unit units and along with her sister, she has made face masks during the pandemic. It is true to say that if you want a job done, give it to a busy person!

When misinformation is easily spread through ignorance and/or maliciously via social media channels that are not controlled or fact-checked, being able to speak to someone who not only understands first-hand what it feels to live in fear, but who can also offer advice and support with the confidence that only comes through having the relevant expertise, is invaluable as Hilary recalls:

My very first call stands out for me. The call was from a carer who was looking after a lady with diabetes and dementia:
 the lady was deteriorating rapidly and the carer was struggling to feed her, getting concerned about how best to support her as they were struggling to get in touch with their usual GP. I provided the help and support over the phone and then personally followed up with the GP surgery directly. I then rang the caller back and confirmed the GP would contact them directly in order to provide the correct advice and care. The helpline has been a great example of how, working collaboratively with healthcare professionals, we are able to provide a fully rounded care and support service which is essential for people who are living with diabetes. By directly following up with the callers’ primary care service, I was able to immediately provide that sense of relief to the caller.

I could really notice the change in tone from the caller between the initial call where they were frustrated and anxious about their next steps to the gratitude in the second call, where I was able to show them how invested we were in providing that support.

There are countless people like Hilary giving reassurance to many and it is one of the positive things that we can take from what has been a truly miserable year.

As news of the vaccine rollout gives us hope and expectation for a better 2021 for everyone and whilst we are no longer standing on our doorsteps to clap the NHS and others, we will always need and will be forever grateful to people like Hilary who are prepared to give that little bit extra and offer us that quiet voice of hope and optimism when the noise of despair threatens to overwhelm us. Long may it continue.


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