Healthcare heroes reveal life in major UK hospital during pandemic

Christine and Christopher Webb with their British Citizen Awards.
Christine and Christopher Webb with their British Citizen Awards.

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A Campbeltown woman and her son have been recognised for their work at one of the UK’s largest hospitals during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Christine and Christopher Webb, who both work for Sodexo Healthcare at Royal Stoke University Hospital in England, have been honoured in the British Citizen Awards, held biannually to recognise individuals doing extraordinary work in communities across the UK.

Christine, 57, was awarded a medal of honour while Christopher, 26, received a special recognition certificate, for ‘exceptional contribution to society and being an inspiration to other British citizens in unprecedented times’.

The duo, who both lost friends and colleagues to the virus, told the Courier the prospect of visiting Campbeltown brought them light during their darkest days.

Christine, who is the daughter of Eva MacDonald MBE and the late Chris MacDonald, grew up in Campbeltown, attending Dalintober Primary School and Campbeltown Grammar School.

After school, she worked at Auchinlee Care Home, which her parents ran at the time, before completing her nursing training at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

For the last 12 years Christine has worked at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, starting off as a help desk operative, progressing to supervisor, and, for the last four years, as help desk and main reception manager.

Seven years ago, Christopher, who was born in Glasgow but raised in Stoke, joined the hospital as a porter.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, in February 2020, when passengers evacuated from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship were bussed to Arrowe Park Hospital to quarantine, Christopher’s senior manager asked him to go for a week and carry out concierge duties on behalf of Royal Stoke University Hospital.

And despite the challenges of the role, when he was asked to return for another week-long stint, he did so without hesitation.

‘It was horrendous because nobody knew what was going on at that time,’ Christine said. ‘We thought, like everyone else, that maybe in a month or so things would be okay.’

There were times when Christine didn’t even recognise her own son at the hospital because he was wearing full personal protective equipment.

‘There were weeks, even months, when nearly every patient the porters moved was Covid positive, whether they were alive or deceased,’ she said.

‘Sadly two of Christopher’s work friends and fellow porters passed away within a week of each other.’

Christopher had been working alongside one of the porters just a couple of weeks before he died.

‘I finished my shift and said I’d see him the next day and then the news came that he’d been moved to intensive care,’ Christopher said. ‘It was a massive blow to morale for everyone.

‘We had three or four porters in intensive care and, thankfully, two recovered but, unfortunately, two of them didn’t.’

Christine described the impact of losing colleagues as having ‘a ripple effect’ but said they ‘just had to get on with it’, adding: ‘We’re very lucky because half-way through the second wave, we got an on-site mental health counsellor.

‘I’m quite a resilient person – when I was nursing, I worked through the King’s Cross disaster – but I’d never, ever worked through anything like this. Nobody had.’

While being extremely grateful for her award, Christine believes the medals should have been given to frontline workers like Christopher.

Christine Webb was one of just 100 people to receive British Citizen Awards medal of honour.
Christine Webb was one of just 100 people to receive British Citizen Awards medal of honour.

‘What these guys, the domestics and porters, were going into, it literally was like scenes from a horror film.

‘All the horror stories were absolutely true; nurses were working 14 or 16 hours a day, at one point I think there were nearly 400 positive cases at the hospital and critical care was working at about 200 per cent capacity. The staffing situation at various levels was just dire.

‘The light, for us, was the thought of getting back up to Campbeltown and seeing Mum.’

Luckily, Christine and Christopher spent a week in Campbeltown in March 2020, just before the first lockdown, and they were able to return last August when things calmed down a little.

‘When we are waiting at Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow, and the 926 coach to Campbeltown pulls in, we just think, “We’re getting there!”,’ Christine said. ‘So we would like to thank West Coast Motors.

‘I can’t tell you how strong our connection to Campbeltown is; it’s like coming home.

‘I married my first husband here and Christopher, who was named after my dad, was baptised in the Highland Parish Church.

‘It’s worse each time we leave but we go away feeling like we’ve had a holiday.’

She added: ‘If either of us were displaying symptoms, there’s no way we’d have come up. We’ve got to think of Mum and everyone else we see when we go out and about.’

Eva, 84, who spent a lifetime in nursing and holds the honour of being the longest serving nurse in Scotland with a career lasting 54 years, said: ‘It’s a great accolade and I am a very proud mother and grandmother.’