Community support worker Thomas Gregory-Smith from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has been shortlisted for the Clinical Support Worker of the Year award at Our Health Heroes Awards 2021.

Being a finalist means that Tom is in the running to be named gold, silver or bronze winner, and the final position will be decided by a public vote. Our health heroes awards logo

Help us celebrate Tom’s fantastic achievement by casting your vote at skillsforhealth.org.uk/about-us/vote-for-your-our-health-heroes/ before February 8.

Tom has been working as a community support worker in the Older Adults Community Mental Health Team since 2016. His interest in health care was sparked up as a little boy when he saw news about the violence in Northern Ireland: he wanted to help people who had been hurt. His interest led him to work in the NHS and care homes in North East of England until getting married to Severine brought him to Oxford and to the role of health care assistant in the Fiennes Centre in Banbury and Fulbrook Centre in Oxford.

“It was a great team and I had grown in my role and was looking for a change. When we had our first daughter, I also wanted to move from shift work to a slightly more family-friendly role. That’s how I became a community support worker. I really enjoy it and feel valued,” Tom explains.

In his role Tom works closely with Oxford Health’s care coordinators and supports adults of 65 years old and above to help them live fulfilling and independent lives. A typical day can include anything from a 10-15 minute welfare check by phone to helping fill a form for a bus pass, encouraging engagement and alleviating isolation, loneliness and anxiety.

“It really is about person-centred care,” Tom says. “It’s about finding out where the person is in their life, helping them discover their goals and achieve them and supporting them in practical tasks and overall wellbeing.”

In this role Tom can make use of his other life-long passion: music. He started learning violin by the Suzuki method when he was four and has played ever since.

“As a youngster it was mainly classical music but since then I’ve played folk and various other styles and been in cover bands playing anything from Michael Jackson to Bob Dylan,” he says.

“Music has gone from being an enjoyable hobby to something I’m very keen to use in health care. I have one service user who plays guitar and really enjoys 60s and 70s music, and although we of course chat, majority of our session is making music together. For some others music is more about relaxation and building rapport. I might put on some music and we chat about it but then I can also remind them to make a call about getting the fridge repaired,” he says.

In the autumn Tom even provided calm, soothing background music for his whole team for a session that was put aside for filling in the annual NHS staff survey.

“I think it was appreciated by the team!” he laughs.

Once the Covid restrictions can be lifted, Tom is hoping to put together a therapeutic group using music as a way of engagement and easing social anxiety.

The coronavirus pandemic has made Tom’s person-centred care clearly much more challenging. Not only him but his service users have needed to adapt to the new digital ways of working and, on face-to-face visits, Tom wearing full personal protective equipment, including a face shield.

“You just try not to make that too much of a barrier,” he says.

Pandemic or not, Tom finds his job immensely rewarding.

“There is a sense that you are really providing a benefit; that without your input the person’s life would not be as good as it can be,” he says.

“Often it is in part because of your support that a person is keeping some level of independence. Over a period of time, they may be discharged from our service and remain well for long periods of time. You know that being able to spend that detailed time with them has made a lasting difference,” Tom says.

And how does it feel to be recognised on a national level?

“I’m honoured and flattered, Tom says.

“I knew my work is appreciated by the team and by the service users and their families. And of course I was flattered my manager wanted to nominate me – but for that to be looked at by a team who doesn’t know me and to get to the final three…there’s personal pride, but more than that, I feel it is really good for the very good work our team does and for the whole of Oxford Health, too. I find this trust a really good place to work and these awards promote the importance of good mental health provision in the society.”

Katrina Anderson, Service Director for Oxfordshire, Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon & Wiltshire Mental Health said:

“I am delighted and proud that Thomas has been shortlisted for this award. Mental health community support workers do incredible work to help our service users live independent and fulfilling lives. People like Thomas may work with a patient for a few weeks or for many years. During the coronavirus pandemic this work has been more challenging and important than ever. I hope this nomination shines a light on these professionals who are less known than doctors or nurses but whose work is a real lifeline for our service users.”

Don’t forget: Tom is already on medals so you can help him to gold by casting your vote at skillsforhealth.org.uk/about-us/our-health-heroes before February 8.

Our Health Heroes are national awards, organised now for the 5th time by Skills for Health, a not-for-profit organisation committed to the development of an improved and sustainable healthcare workforce across the UK, together with partners NHS Employers, UNISON and Bevan Brittan. The awards recognise the extraordinary people at the heart of our NHS and social care workforce.

Finalists and nominees will be celebrated, and winners announced, at a virtual ceremony with sector leaders, colleagues, friends and family on March 23, 2021.