Student volunteers from five schools across Birmingham were treated as special guests at Birmingham Children’s Hospital when the hospital opened its doors to 50 young people for a unique community engagement event.
The first-ever ‘Choose Wisely’ event was organised to inform young people about the roles of different emergency and urgent care services and support them and their families to make informed decisions about how to access advice and support for their healthcare. Given the ability of young people to advocate when they are informed, the aim was that they would spread the word about emergency and urgent healthcare services and choices with their families and in their communities but the event grew to become something far broader, encompassing themes of social responsibility and diversity.
Emergency Departments can get extremely busy so people should be aware that - depending on the care needed - pharmacies, GPs and walk-in centres can be effective alternatives for advice and treatment, and protect the limited Emergency Department and emergency services resources for true accident and emergency needs. The schools invited to attend are directly served by Birmingham Children’s Hospital and were specifically selected from areas that are known to have higher than average attendances to the Emergency Department with illnesses which don’t fall into an accident or emergency category and could be well managed by other services.
As part of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundations Trust’s Junior Volunteer programme, the students learned about the roles our emergency services play, including the pressures they face, as they help and care for patients and families. The unique event took in a visit to our specialist Emergency Department and a frontline Emergency Ambulance where groups met the expert staff. They heard about what it’s like to work in such a busy department, which last year saw more than 60,000 babies, children and young people. They also learned about how the emergency ambulance services are used, and the skills and expertise that is required to work as a paramedic, and how the pressures on the system make it difficult for ambulances to get to those who need them most. The students were taught about the types of illnesses and injuries that should be managed in an Emergency Department, and what illnesses and injuries would be appropriately managed by pharmacists, GPs and walk-in centres and what other sources of information and support for health-related matters might be available. Armed with this knowledge they were able to return to their families, schools and communities to share their learning.
After meeting staff from the Emergency Department and ambulance service, the students were taught about the NHS curriculum, including information about the size of the NHS as an organisation and employer, and the impact it has on climate change. They then worked together to use the information and experiences they’d gained to develop their own social action, to share their knowledge and experience to a wider audience, at home, school and in their communities, and impact on reducing the burden on emergency services. There was also a focus on the students getting to meet members of Birmingham Children’s Hospital staff from a variety of roles and backgrounds and learn about the different types of people a hospital needs to function, with diversity and inclusion being key to the organisation and how it reflects the community in which it sits. When the students were asked at the end of the session who would like to work or volunteer at the hospital in the future, the expert panel of staff were delighted to see that many of the participants were keen to get involved with the organisation.
The Junior Volunteer programme includes much more than a regular school trip. There are several key elements that make the programme unique. The programme consists of five integrated stages: first, the Trust’s Volunteering team introduce the students to the organisation and a particular department, topic or issue; secondly, they give the young people key information so that they learn something. Thirdly, the students give something back to the Trust they can use, such as designing a poster, coming up with some new ideas, committing to running a campaign or fundraising beyond the visit. Fourthly, at the end of the visit, students process and discuss the day before finally being asked to share their experience with others and spread the knowledge they have gained.
With the event taking place on 20 September, at the same time as the Global Climate Strike, the theme of climate change was addressed and the groups looked at how unnecessary attendances to the Emergency Department impact on the environment due to unneeded car journey’s and the increased staffing that is required to deal with the extra attendances. The group also considered the recycling of medical products such as asthma inhalers and learned where they could recycle these in the local area.
The event was organised in collaboration with the local Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, Birmingham Education Partnership, and Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and was attended by pupils from Nishkam High School in Hockley, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary in Yardley Wood, Holy Family School in Small Heath, Acocks Green Primary and Kings Heath Boys. School nurses were involved throughout the process and intend to use the event as a framework for further learning that they can deliver in schools around the region.
There were also guests on the day from the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues who took part in facilitating groups of students. Staff from University Hospital’s Birmingham attended as observers as they intend to set up a similar event.
Mary Montgomery, Clinical Director for Urgent and Critical Care at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust said:
“It was a real privilege to have time with these young people and show them some of what we do. Birmingham Women's and Children's is very much a part of the community, as was so well demonstrated on the day through the young people who came along, the people they saw, and the expert panel. The students and their schools reflected the diversity of the community in which we live – they were such enthusiastic participants, sharing their own experiences and suggestions throughout the day, and bravely showing the breadth of their thoughts and ideas in their posters and presentations.
“These young people were inspiring – and through sharing our inspirations in the work we do, we had the opportunity to encourage them to look at us as part of their healthcare support, but also as a potential place to work in the future.
“The pressures we face in emergency care are huge – these young people are now our advocates - going back into their communities ready to tell their families and friends about alternative services to relieve some of the burden on emergency care.”
Emily Lloyd, Teacher of Physical Education and Subject Leader for Health and Social Care at Nishkam High School said:
“My students loved the day and are really enthusiastic about getting something together to work with local primary schools to spread this message.”
To learn more about the junior volunteer programme or volunteering at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s trust in general visit bwc.nhs.uk/volunteer.