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Northern Regional College lecturer leading by example on COVID-19 ward

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A Health and Social Care lecturer at Northern Regional College doing weekend shifts as a healthcare assistant in the COVID-19 wards at Antrim Area Hospital plans to donate her payment for this work to Ulster University’s COVID-19 testing fundraising appeal.

Jacqui McAllister from Carnlough, who teaches full time in the College’s Newtownabbey campus, admitted her family were “horrified” when she told them that she’d be working on the frontline, but felt it was something she had to do. She joins dozens of students from the College and Newtownabbey campus in particular, working as healthcare assistants in hospitals, nursing homes and in the local community during the pandemic.

“How could I teach my students about compassion and courage if I wasn’t prepared to do it myself?” the mother-of-one said: “We’re all in this together and, by stepping up myself, I hope I’m modelling best practice to my students. With so many of them working on the frontline, it’s only right that I should do the same.

“It’s a frightening situation to be in,” she continued. “I’m frightened, but the patients are also frightened. Some of them are very ill and their families cannot visit them, so we sit with them, hold their hand and talk to them. It’s not for everyone and it can be very emotionally draining, but there is great support from the nurses and all the other staff.”

Once the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation became apparent in March, Jacqui, who studied Public Health at Masters level, got in touch with a recruitment agency.

“I signed up with the agency on a Tuesday and before I was allowed to work, I had to complete 23 online modules, get references checked and Access NI clearance. It all happened very quickly, and I did my first shift in the COVID ward that weekend.”

Jacqui has completed three long shifts so far, getting ‘fit tested’ before each shift to make sure she’s fit for work. She is continuing to do her ‘day job’ at the College and works Monday – Friday, delivering classes and online support to her students. Her 13-hour shifts in the hospital on her weekend off comes at a cost, since this means that she has to completely self-isolate from her family and live in separate accommodation.

Earlier this year, Jacqui was shortlisted for ‘Further Education (FE) Leader of the Year’ at the UK Tes FE Awards in recognition of her work to spearhead the expansion of Health and Social Care courses available at Northern Regional College. Jacqui’s efforts have resulted in a steady increase in student numbers over recent years culminating in over 220 students studying Health and Social care courses in the current academic year.

“As we’ve seen in recent weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare staff really are at the frontline, providing care and support to the most vulnerable people in our society. By equipping our students with the necessary skills to provide the best possible care, they really can transform lives.”

With an aging population and a reduction in public resources, the healthcare sector faces growing problems with increasing demand for home care packages. Jacqui predicts that this demand will only grow, creating more opportunities for those interesting in pursuing a caring role.

“The Health and Social Care courses offered by the College can provide a pathway to success,” she said. “Our students can progress from Level 2 all the way up to Level 5 knowing that working for accredited qualifications can greatly improve their employability and career prospects.”

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