A day in the life of a Nottingham on Call call operator - Jeff Noon
We're very proud of the whole team at Nottingham on Call, who make sure there is always help to hand for our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.
But what are their days like? One of our call operators, Jeff Noon, kindly documented a typical shift at Nottingham on Call, to show just what a fantastic and important service the team is providing to thousands of people across Nottinghamshire and beyond.
Traffic is easier getting to work these days, so I arrive for my shift in plenty of time at 7.50am and head into our ‘On Call bubble’.
We’re based on Harvey Road in Bilborough and the Nottingham on Call team is kept very separate from the rest of the building. We have our own entrance, our own loo and anyone coming into our area must wear a face mask. We don’t wear masks at our desks, but we are well spaced out these days hand cleaner and wipes are there for all to see and all to use. It’s the first thing we do, wipe down the work station and phone.
I am an ATO (Assistive Technology Officer) and my main job is answering alarms and phone calls from our customers, and making sure everything is ok. If it isn’t, it’s my job to get help.
I’ve arrived at the perfect time as there’s a coffee on offer! While I’m waiting for my colleague to return with my fuel for the day, I give my desk a clean and sanitise, and I’m ready to go.
It’s not busy at this time of day. We mainly get calls from carers visiting our customers that live in sheltered schemes, and we open the doors to the schemes for them remotely. It’s not just Nottingham city-based schemes that we work with, but also Ashfield, Gedling and even as far as Altringham.
We take door entry calls from a range of visitors, including carers, newspaper deliveries, meal delivery services, maintenance staff, cleaners, gardeners, emergency services staff, pharmacy deliveries and district nurses to name a few. People can only get access if they have a password or can evidence that they have genuine business with a resident and know a bit about them.
The rest of my 8am shift arrive for our eleven hours. It’s a long day.
My coffee arrives and I take my first call of the day. It’s Mrs M who wants to know what day it is today. I tell her it’s Monday and wish her a pleasant day. I notice, from her call log that this is the eighth call of the day for her. Mel is on an Ambulance call, staying with a client who has fallen and waiting for the Ambulance to arrive. Tinicia is opening doors for carers and Jayne is talking to a client from Ashfield who has water dripping in from the flat above.
It’s getting busier now. I’ve taken well over ten calls, mostly to open doors. A couple of clients have pressed the pendants by accident, but they’re fine. Mr B took a while to answer as his TV was on loud and he couldn’t hear me at first. I looked at his notes and saw that he was hard of hearing, so I turned up the volume and shouted and shouted and shouted. He responded eventually, so that was good. Shouting is a very common thing in our office and it surprised me when I first started. I don’t know why it surprised me as older people do get hard of hearing and so put the TV on loud, in fact very loud sometimes. It’s all very normal when you think about it. Tony is also shouting to try and get a response: “Mrs R can you hear me? MRS R CAN YOU HEAR ME? MRS R CAN YOU HEAR ME?!” She does reply eventually and then complains to Tony that there was no need to raise his voice.
Mel is still waiting for the ambulance to arrive and goes back to the lady on the floor every few minutes to makes sure she is still ok. She is not injured, but she is upset. Mel is speaking kindly and reassuringly to her, telling her it won’t be long now. Jo is telling Mrs M it’s Monday and Alan is talking to one of the people who works at a sheltered scheme and who is testing the pull cords in each flat.
Ryan and Raj are busy in the office preparing to go out on installs. They are ATEs (Engineers) who do the more complicated installation jobs. I will speak to them both no doubt several times during the day as they have to make sure all the equipment connects correctly through to our call centre, and also to get our clients used to the equipment by testing themselves.
Jon has allocated the Daily Duties and I’m not out and about today. Alan is on Installs and has just left the office to do the simpler installs and the client profiles. Client profiles help us collect all the information we need for our records. It’s nice sometimes to get out and meet clients. Tinicia is also going out on collections and small jobs. Collections is exactly what it says, collecting alarms that are no longer needed. These days we usually collect them from outside the houses of clients rather than go in. Collections can be difficult emotionally some days. Often, we are collecting the alarm after the client has passed away, and relatives are at their home doing all the clearing that needs to be done. I remember well one time collecting an alarm from the son of the client, who was about the same age as me. He was wandering around the garden taking a last look at the house that his Mum had lived in for 60 years and that he was brought up in. He knew every plant, bush and tree in that garden and told me how when he was a child, his Dad had planted that big old apple tree when it was just a sapling. His Mum made apple pies from it, right up until last year.
As for my job today, I am on No Contacts, which means I call up clients we haven’t heard from for a while, and ask them to test their alarms. I’ll start it later, as it’s too busy just now with calls coming in thick and fast. Opening Scheme doors, answering test calls. Telling Mrs M it’s Monday and advising clients that their carers really are coming to see them today, but perhaps they are running late. Mel’s ambulance has arrived and she can close the call, after waiting over 2 hours. She goes for a break, with a sense of relief that the lady on the floor has now got the help she needs.
It’s getting busy again and so I answer some alarm calls, and tell Mrs M it’s a Monday. A call comes in and I hear nothing. No one answers my calls. I turn up the volume and go to ‘half Duplex’, which sometimes makes hearing and talking easier. Mrs T is crying and saying she is on the floor and can’t get up. I calm her down and eventually she starts to tell me that she went dizzy and fell over, and can’t move her hand and her head hurts. She is very upset and we go through the Covid questions quickly. Now it’s time to get help. I dial 999, which is something we all do many times each week. I answer the despatcher’s questions quickly and accurately, tell her what’s happened, tell her the address, confirm it, tell her the key safe details, tell her the personal details and medical history. She has had a stroke before and has other medical problems. They will despatch an ambulance as soon as one is available. I get the reference number and then go back to Mrs T and tell her that help is on the way. I try my best to reassure her, as she is still upset and frightened. Then I look at the details of her contacts, and tell her I will call her daughter who lives a few minutes away. I put her on hold again and phone her daughter. This is part of the job that I hate. I mean, telling someone that their Mum is in trouble and an ambulance is on its way is not nice, but it has to be done. Her daughter answers and burst into tears when I tell her and then I try to calm her, so she can make the short journey to go around to Mum’s. She says she is on her way, and I go back to Mrs T and tell her that her daughter is on her way. Mrs T is angry now and says she doesn’t want to go to hospital, and she will be alright once her daughter arrives. I hear the door bell and voices outside and the sound of the key in the door, the ambulance crew are on scene. I confirm it’s them, and tell them I will close the call to give privacy to the crew and their patient. After that, I call her daughter to tell her that the ambulance has arrived. She is stuck on Clifton bridge, and swearing at the traffic. No amount of reassurance that Mum is in good hands, can calm her. It is her Mum after all.
Jo asks me what the call was about and we go through the details, she asks me if I am ok, and I am. Lauren tells me the same lady had fallen over last week. You are trained to handle emergencies and deal with it. That’s what we all do. We all take emergency calls two or three times a shift usually, sometimes more. That’s what we are here for.
Back to my no contacts project. “Please can you test your alarm Mrs P? We haven’t heard from you since March.” Sometimes a customer doesn’t understand and I need to ring relatives, but most times it’s ok. Jayne is gently explaining to Mrs M that it’s a Monday, but she can’t visit her Grandma tomorrow, as she died many years ago.
I can hear a vigorous debate going on about the Christmas Rota, which has yet to be published. Our shift will be on duty over the holiday period. We do four days on and four off. I do two on and six off as I am one of the few part-timers. This year our shift pattern spans Christmas and New Year. Pete who looks after the Rota is asking people for preferences, but whatever he comes up with will not please everyone, or anyone for that matter. It’s what we signed up for, so give us a kind thought and toast as you tuck into your Turkey or Nut Roast this year!
Jon dumps a pile of forms on Lauren’s desk with a big thud. They are the forms we now send out to update a client’s profile. That is what Lauren will be doing this afternoon as well as answering the alarm calls when it gets busy. It’s pretty straight forward. You soon realise that people’s lives and circumstances change and they simply forget to tell us. Carers’ details are changed, relatives move and change phone numbers, mobiles are upgraded and numbers change. That’s why we need to update records constantly. I couldn’t count the times I’ve tried to call relatives only to find the number no longer exists or carers who politely tell me they stopped looking after Mrs T a year ago.
A phone call cascades to me, and it’s someone who wants to know why we called him. I ask if he has a relative with a lifeline and his Dad does, so we get the details and look at his Dad’s records. The call log show a mains failure alarm and we need the alarm powered up and tested. He sighs, as he has had this many times before. His Dad has dementia and can’t understand what to do if we call him. His Dad has a routine of switching off all the electric plugs before he goes to bed at night, and that includes his lifeline alarm unfortunately. My Dad was the same, the last thing he did before he went to bed was to bolt the door and unplug all of the plugs, except for the fridge. His son will see to it later today when he visits Dad and the alarm will be fine on battery backup for the next few hours. I note the outcome on our handover sheet, which is a list of faults handed from shift to shift.
I can hear Jo ringing the neighbour of a lady that has come through but hasn’t responded to our calls. The neighbour is on the list of contacts we have for each client, and she pops next door to make sure all is well. She goes around and finds her friend asleep, in the front room, and then tip toes back next door. Another good result. It’s really nice the way some people support their elderly neighbours. Lots of unsung heroes are out there.
Lunchtime now, and its salad again! I’m trying to be good after 3 months working from home and too much cake! I chat to Ryan who is back for his lunch and he tells me about his morning installs at a house with very high ceilings and a friendly Labrador following him around. Fortunately, he is a dog lover!
I don’t make it back to my desk, as Dave thrusts a phone and set of car keys in my hand and tells me I am to do a welfare check on a ‘no response’ call. It’s on a scheme a few hundred yards away from Harvey Road and it won’t take long. Well that’s the hope, it depends what I find. I have sheet with Mr W’s details on and am soon pressing the main door button and finding his apartment. No answer from the doorbell and I can only hear Mel back at the office shouting through the alarm and trying to get an answer. I have the keysafe code so I put on my mask, get the key and turn around to open the door, only to see Mr W standing in the doorway and asking who I am, and what do I want. Well that’s a relief I think to myself. He looks fine apart from him wondering who I am. I show him my ID and explain what’s happened and help him back to his chair in the living room.
My first alarm call is Mrs M, again, asking what day it is today. I tell her, and she says thank you and God bless. Then a call from a neighbour worrying that he hasn’t seen or heard from his friend, Mr J, in the next flat next door for a few days. There is no answer from his door, he also tells me that he wasn’t well last week. Before I arrange for a welfare check, I open Mr J’s records and call him. No Answer. But I noticed we called an ambulance to him last week, when he wasn’t well. I call QMC admissions and they confirm he is still with them. The neighbour is told and is relieved. I am relieved too.
My thoughts go back to the welfare checks. I’ve never found anything really bad. People on the floor is the worst I have found, and that time I simply rang an ambulance, made them comfortable and waited for help to arrive. A couple of my colleagues haven’t been as lucky.
The phones are going mad, so we all drop the jobs we are doing, and get answering; even the Team Leaders are answering the alarms. More doors need opening, more clients are testing. Ashfield and Gedling are testing in their larger schemes, and press every smoke alarm, and pull every pull cord in each apartment. Clients are calling asking when their carers are coming. Some want us to call their Doctors as they aren’t feeling well, or ask us to contact relatives. Mrs M wants to know what day it is, and a client’s grandchild is pressing alarm buttons to see what happens. To top it all, I get a ‘no response’ from a smoke alarm activation, and call the fire brigade to an 80-year-old lady in a Gedling Scheme. Then I cancel the Fire Brigade when she eventually responds and she tells me she was cooking bacon and forgot about it.
Jayne is asking someone to turn their TV down, then louder, she is shouting please turn the TV down. The client can’t hear her shouting. We have all been there, shouting over the TV or Radio. TVs are a pain to us. We can’t hear clients, but we can hear Murder she Wrote. It’s also not unusual for us to be asked if we can change channels, and one lady gets most irate when we explain that’s not something we can do. She can’t use her remote due to arthritis, and the carers set the TV channel when they leave. It’s hard for me to imagine a world where I can’t even change TV channels. It surprised me when I first started this job, that lots of people need help with very simple things. I’d never thought about it much before I started here.
It’s calmed down a bit now and I can carry on with my requests to test the alarms.
Another emergency alarm call. A carer has arrived and can’t wake up Mrs B. Will I call an ambulance urgently she says? I put her on hold and arrange it and give the ambulance despatcher the medical history. Mrs B is diabetic and has problems giving herself the injections sometimes. The carer will stay with Mrs B until the ambulance arrives. I can close the call. Mrs M’s alarm is going off again
Tony takes a phone call from a client’s son, who tells us that Dad has moved to a hospice and he wanted to thank us for our help over the last few years. We arrange a date for the equipment to be collected, and he talks about his Dad for a few minutes. I think he just wants to talk about his Dad at this sad time in his life. People do like to talk when they are going through tough times. It’s not busy now, so Tony gives him a bit of time just to chat.
The 6am starters are now racing through the door and wishing us all a good night. In comes Stacy who works evenings. She sits down, logs in and gets on with taking alarms calls. Jon finishes his processes and looks relaxed as it’s his finish time too. Stacy tells Mrs M it’s a Monday, and looks over to me after she has ended the call. She’s been busy today she tells me. Yes, I reply, she’s been having a bad day. We all know some of the problems that come with Dementia. Sometimes we get frustrated with clients, just as relatives do. We have to think hard and appreciate that some clients simply don’t remember they asked the same question 15 minutes ago, and 15 minutes before that and more and more before then. Mrs M always says thank you, and always says God Bless you. We all love her kind voice even if she does try us most days, by her many many calls. She is getting worse and social care are now on the case, reviewing her care package.
After 5pm, most of the test calls stop, especially the ones that the Independent Living Coordinators and Wardens of the schemes arrange. But the phones keep ringing like crazy. It’s the tea time carer calls that keep us busy on alarm calls, and we are now taking diverts from Ashfield Council’s housing repairs. Nottingham City Homes’ homeless number is also diverted to us. It’s going to get interesting.
Mr W’s pendant alarm comes through and then fails to connect. I need to call him and make sure everything is OK. I ring him and all is well. He pressed his alarm by mistake and then tried to cancel it. I need to be sure he is ok, so I ask him how he is, and he tells me he has just been retuned from hospital after a 2 week stay at the City, and is glad to be home. He wants to chat, as many clients do. After all, sometimes our voices are the only conversations they will have in a day. Us and Carers, that’s the only people they talk to some days. I can hear it’s getting busy on the phone and the alarms are coming in thick and fast, so I politely tell Mr W that I have to go and answer them. He is fine and understands, and says good night and thank you, and I can take another alarm call. It’s Mrs M again and I tell her its Monday.
I’ve been answering the phone a lot rather than alarms, as has Stacy and Lauren. Mostly Ashfield residents wanting repairs. Many people ring us upset and agitated, they may be on the floor, injured, concerned relatives, or they even just have a leaky loo and need a plumber. Lauren calms them down. We all calm callers down and are well practised at it
Stacy is on the phone to a person with nowhere to sleep tonight, and is taking details for the duty housing officer. We also take these calls at nights and weekends as well as housing repair request from Nottingham City Homes and Ashfield.
I am reassuring an elderly couple who don’t know why we are calling through the alarm, and are a little frightened and not too pleased by our intrusion, they insist they didn’t press the pendant by mistake. Lauren is passing over the jobs to the Ashfield Council operative. Jo is telling Mrs M it’s Monday, and Tony is shouting to Mrs G and getting louder and louder. He knows she won’t answer. She never answers. She may be going wandering as she often does, when the door alarm comes through. She could be wandering around the local retail park, or the nearby church or the Scheme corridors. We know where she wanders that from past experience. Tony asks me to take over the call and then heads out on a welfare check to see if he can find her. I continue to call out to Mrs G, with no answer, just the sound of traffic. I can take other calls while I am waiting, opening doors and taking repair calls. After 15 minutes I hear Tony come in and I shout out to him. All is well, Mrs G is in her living room. I close the call. Tony returns and says, he is convinced that she will not respond to our calls because she knows we will come out and enjoys the company. She is always pleased to see us, especially Tony.
In come the Night Shift. Ready to take calls, process huge amounts of paperwork as well as cleaning, preparing and programming equipment. They don’t take as many calls as the day shift. But the ones they do take in the early hours are often serious. People generally don’t press their alarms at 3am unless something bad is happening. We still respond, we still do welfare checks.
I glance up at our screen and notice I’ve taken 150 alarms calls today; not bad. Lauren and Jayne have taken a lot more. We take over 30,000 alarm calls a month not counting the phone calls inbound and outbound of the office. It’s busy. Sometimes too busy.
Time to go, and my thoughts turn to what’s for dinner and the state of traffic on the Cinderhill roundabout. The last thing I hear as I go through the door is Steven telling Mrs M that today is Monday. I mouth her words:“ Thank you and God bless you.”