Our staff stories

Celebrating staff stories at #Teamgesh

We’re celebrating our staff in a series of stories from across gesh – our hospital Group.

We’ll introduce you to a different star of the show each week, hearing about the difference they make to our patients and communities, and how they are unique.

Meet meet Belmira – self-taught seamstress and our latest staff story during South Asian Heritage Month

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To mark the start of South Asian Heritage Month (18 July – 17 August), we hear from Belmira Fernandes, Heart Failure Nurse Specialist Coordinator at St George’s, who is Goan. 

“Growing up in Goa, a small state in India, I balanced working in the fields with my studies and later became a primary school teacher before moving to the UK in 2014. My village was a close-knit community that celebrated each other's successes and acted as a strong support system during tough times. 

“Goa blends east and west with Hindu, Christian, and Muslim communities living harmoniously. Often known as paradise on Earth, it reflects a mix of Portuguese and Indian cultures. This upbringing has made me peaceful, friendly, and fun-loving, embracing the laid-back Goan attitude of 'Susegad'. 

“Living in the UK, I keep Goan culture alive for my three sons and husband by cooking Goan dishes like xitt koddi (Goan fish curry) and serving up Goan sweets like Dodol and Bebinca. I am so proud of my culture – which centres around family values and traditions. 

“Being fluent in several languages comes in handy working in our wonderfully diverse hospital. So, aside from the main responsibilities of my role, I enjoy stepping in as an interpreter for some patients. Recently, I was given the opportunity to complete a Wandsworth Lifelong Learning management course, giving me a huge confidence boost and solidifying my career goals. 

“As a self-taught seamstress inspired by the TV show Sewing Bee, I make dresses out of bedsheets in my spare time. Married to a professional ballroom dancer, you’ll also often find me joining my husband on the dance floor as his partner.” 

 

Celestine Ade-Williams - Project Workstream Lead (Transport and Sustainability), Building your Future Hospitals (BYFH) Programme, at Epsom and St Helier Hospital

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“I've always been passionate about healthcare, coming from a family of nurses and doctors. After spending 15 years in healthcare regulation law, I moved to project work almost a decade ago. I joined the BYFH Programme in 2020 for a three-month stint, and I ended up falling in love with it, so four years later, I'm still here. 

“My role is to ensure that everyone will be able to access the new Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (SECH) in Sutton and promote sustainable travel options. As one of the Trust’s sustainability champions, my job aligns perfectly with my main passion. 

“Our plans for a new hospital in Sutton alongside modernising facilities at Epsom and St Helier hospitals will support the NHS’ commitment to achieving net zero for its core carbon footprint by 2040 and its wider 'Carbon Footprint Plus' by 2045. It will include green spaces, electric vehicle charging, smart technology, and sustainable building practices, all contributing to a low carbon footprint. These initiatives will benefit patients, staff, and the local community, alleviating pressure on our Trust and the wider NHS.

“I am incredibly proud of the project's progress and the significant impact SECH will have on healthcare at our Trust.” 

You can find out more about BYFH here.

Katrina Przybytniak – Retail Manager in Facilities and Catering at ESTH

On the week of the NHS’ 76th birthday, we hear from Katrina Przybytniak, Retail Manager in Facilities and Catering at ESTH.

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“I was born and raised in Gdynia in Poland. As I have a passion for fashion, I started my career in the Italian fashion industry at 18. I worked my way up to managing three major fashion stores. I then moved to the UK and used my customer service skills by joining the hospitality sector.

“I’m a people person and making our customers happy is my number one priority. I love it when they leave with a smile on their faces, knowing they’ve enjoyed their meal and been served well by the team.

“I love helping staff to celebrate NHS awareness days and occasions, and sometimes we create special menus. We did this for Black History Month, and Levi Roots was a special guest at St Helier Hospital. Having an expert in Caribbean food in our restaurant added to the pressure. Nevertheless, the team pulled together, and we had a fun and exciting day – I was so proud.

“Happy 76th birthday to the NHS. It’s full of the most amazing people, both colleagues and patients – and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.” 

Amanda Coutinho Da Silva – Paediatric Nurse at St George’s

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“I joined St George’s in 2014 as a cleaner, then a hostess, a healthcare assistant and now I'm a nurse. My desire to become a nurse involved a lot of studying while working full time – it was hard work, but I crave a type of fulfilment that only being a nurse can offer me. 

“I’ve been working with my awesome team on Nicholls Ward for seven years now. They’re always there with a helping hand and a smile – making the tough days brighter and the good days even better. The team’s support is like a safety net, and this filters down to the amazing care we give our patients.  

“Some of most cherished moments happened during my time as a healthcare assistant working with oncology patients. Colleagues and I went above and beyond to meet last wishes with compassion and dignity. Each time I witness the impact of my work, it reaffirms my belief that I was born to be a nurse. 

“Growing up in Brazil, I graduated there as a primary school teacher before moving to the UK. I worked with children, teaching them how to play chess – I’ve loved chess since childhood, so I like to think I’m quite the expert.” 

Marlon Reyes, Frailty Nurse for Sutton Health and Care

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“I always wanted to work in the medical field, and nursing has been my only career since leaving school. Before I came to the UK, I was an emergency nurse in the Philippines. I worked at St George’s hospital for 20 years.

“My two great loves are working with people and travel abroad, and nursing has been a way to travel and work at the same time, while fulfilling my passion for caring. 

“I’m based in the emergency department at St Helier hospital. I see patients aged over 65, mostly they have become less mobile, some have had falls or are suffering from confusion. 

“My role is a front door to community services for people who come to the emergency department. We assess patients, and if we can do so safely, we send them home making use of all the services we have in the community, such as district nurses, palliative care nurses, physiotherapists and virtual ward staff.

“I play a lot of sport, especially swimming, badminton and basketball. I like to balance my workload and my social life – but outside of work, travel is my true passion.”

Roxanne Turner, Cleaner at ESTH

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“I'm a local girl, growing up and attending school in Sutton, so it's super rewarding working for a trust that serves my community. 

“Despite my daily tasks mostly remaining the same, each day is always different – and they’re mostly fun. The best part of my role is getting to meet new people every day.” 

“Achieving a five-star rating in my cleaning audit was a memorable and proud moment for me. Receiving recognition is always a huge boost. 

“I am also a whiz with numbers, and I’m a qualified bookkeeper with first class pass merits. I managed to juggle studying alongside raising three kids – often sitting down with my books while they were at school or in bed. 
“Some may be surprised to hear that I am a great singer – I’ll listen and singalong to anything really - from reggae to pop...although I'm a bit of a rocker at heart.” 

 

Antonio “Antuan” Sierra Cueto, Specialist Occupational Therapist (STAR TEAM), at St George’s

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“Born in the wonderful sunny Malaga in Spain, I moved to the UK a long time ago to further my career and I’ve never looked back.  

“I love playing a crucial part in my patients’ recovery journey - seeing them become more confident over time, and then eventually discharging them with the skills to live happily and independently is the most satisfaction I could have. 

“I’m a huge extrovert so it feels like I’ve lived many lives – I used to be a Cruise Line Entertainer, hosting bingo sessions and drag shows. I’ve also spent time as part of the Mamma Mia musical cast – you can’t beat a bit of ABBA. 

“Outside of work, I’m a Zumba Instructor. Despite the super high energy atmosphere, it helps me to wind down after a long day in the hospital - I always have the best time dancing and interacting with the people in my classes.” 

 

Sasha Gehrmann, E-Rostering Apprentice at ESTH

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“Before even finishing school, I knew university wasn’t for me. I wanted to head straight into the world of work, so when I saw NHS HR Apprenticeships advertised, I jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m also studying for a Business Administrator qualification, and I love that my apprenticeship lets me explore the many aspects of what HR has to offer.

“Without a doubt, my forthcoming career goals will focus on developing my E-Rostering knowledge – there’s so much to learn. I just really love helping people, and working in HR allows me to do that every day.

“Travelling is my passion, and I’ve been lucky enough to adventure through five continents. From feeding kangaroos in Australia, to visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and chilling with wild monkeys in Bali – I’ve seen a lot. Snorkelling in the beautiful Great Barrier Reef is my most unforgettable experience though – I think about it most days. One day, I hope to head to south America, and Antarctica if I’m brave enough.”

 

George Gouveia, IDT Head of Training at St George’s

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''I never dreamt I would be in this role when I joined all those years ago.''

“I joined St George’s over 30 years ago as a porter, following in my Dad’s footsteps. He was so proud to be a night porter, and portering was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than helping people. You can’t underestimate the positive impact a smile or a kind word can have on a patient when they’re at their most vulnerable. 

“After a few years, I secured a job in the Postgraduate Education Centre, giving me a great introduction to computers. Once I joined the IT department, I started to work my way up - I certainly never dreamt I would be in this role when I started as a porter all those years ago. 

“I met my beautiful wife Debbie at St George’s over two decades ago – we kept bumping into each other on various wards and sparking conversation, and the rest is history. 

“It’s never too late to gain a qualification or skill. I've just graduated from Kingston College as a Chartered Business Manager. I hadn’t studied since leaving school, so committing to a four-year degree made me very nervous, but important for the role I'm entrusted to do.  

“I’m a very competitive person. I managed to rack up a million steps in a month and won the St George’s Step Challenge a few years back – losing is never an option for me. I feed this passionate and competitive spirit into three of the loves of my life – my son, my daughter and Spurs - I never miss a game.” 

Jyothimol Joseph, Staff Nurse at ESTH

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“Nursing has always felt like the perfect fit.”

“I know how valuable a nurse’s support is during difficult periods – my own twin girls were born nine weeks early. My nursing experience has mentally prepared me for many testing life moments, and surviving these has in turn made me a more confident nurse.

“As someone who enjoys every moment while caring for others, nursing has always felt like the perfect fit. I started my career back in India, and this year I celebrate 20 years in the profession.  

“God has gifted me with five children, including not just one, but two sets of twins. I feel very lucky that I have an incredible family to care for, as well as working in a profession that gives me so much joy.

"I am well-travelled and have lived in different countries including India and Saudi Arabia. Outside (and often inside) of work hours, I love to sing. Despite not being professionally trained, I always hit those notes.”

Sarah Thacker, Professional Midwifery Advocate Team Lead at St George’s

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I still remember delivering my first baby. The families never forget you, which always touches me.”

“I’ve worked at George’s for nearly 40 years. I’ve delivered countless babies - but still remember the first and the families never forget you, which always touches me. 

“Midwifery is extremely rewarding, but there are challenges – and that’s where me and my team come in. We offer a confidential listening ear, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on during the tough days. 

“I love looking after others and pride myself on being supportive and caring. In the Birth Reflection Clinic, I give women and birthing people a safe space to talk through their pregnancy journey. It’s a privilege being able to reassure and care for someone during such a pivotal moment in their life. 

“When I'm out of uniform, I run a toddler group and volunteer at my local church. I also really love spending time with my family, and walking - especially when there is a challenge involved. This year, I’ve set myself the target of walking the entire Thames Towpath, covering 185 miles in total - we only started last weekend so there’s a long old way to go.” 

 

Shani McHugh, Service Coordinator in Patient Services at ESTH

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“Knowing I’ve made a colleague’s day easier is the best feeling.” 

“Walking in on my first day at St Helier, everyone was so friendly and welcoming. That still sticks with me, and has been the same in every team I’ve worked in. The support is amazing. 

“I help colleagues by organising their diaries and taking minutes. I’m extremely organised - I have a notebook and a list for everything, so my job suits my personality perfectly. Knowing I’ve made a colleague’s day easier is the best feeling.  

“I’m so proud to be a member of admin staff. We don’t all have direct contact with patients, but still contribute to patient care and the smooth running of our services.  

“Some may compare me to Doctor Dolittle... I’ve got seven pets and this number will only increase. My tribe of animals includes two hamsters, two giant African land snails, a cat, a tortoise and a fish. It’s certainly busy caring for so many pets, but it’s my passion. A benefit is that my fridge is always full of salad, so people assume that I’m super healthy.” 

 

Kristy Parrack, Health Play Specialist at ESTH

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“I love supporting patients to make their time in hospital as positive as possible.”   

Qualifying as a health play specialist has been my career highlight, because it’s such a rewarding role. I love supporting children and young people, as well as their families and carers, to make their stays in hospital less daunting and as positive as possible. 

“Part of my role involves preparing young patients for their hospital stay by talking through the process ahead. Supporting children to be more resilient is so important to me - especially during long-term or repeat stays. My team also uses distraction when patients are undergoing sometimes painful procedures, and we use play to aid with their recovery from illness or surgery. 

“Working with the wider play team, I’ve helped make major improvements to the hospital, such as creating the wonderful sensory garden. As a team, we regularly organise events, including marking Play in Hospital Week where we celebrate the magic of play in healthcare. 

“Outside of work, I embrace my creative side - I love making personalised cards, gifts and decorations for my family and friends.” 

Nana Jenkins, Security Operations Manager at ESTH

“Working in hospital security, you never know what each day will bring.”

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“I came to the UK from Ghana in 2018 and started working as a security guard at Epsom and St Helier in 2019. I worked hard, became a security supervisor and now I’m Operations Manager. We are a diverse workforce that reflects our communities. 

“Working in hospital security, you never know what each day will bring. Often, we are not needed but by being there, we quietly offer reassurance. As a team, we strive to maintain a calm working atmosphere for staff and therefore benefit patient wellbeing.  

“I enjoy helping patients with mental health needs. I make sure I build a rapport with them by taking the time to listen, so they understand I'm here to help. The training I’ve received as a mental health first-aider is invaluable in these situations. 

“I love to read - Paul Grzegorzek, a security team colleague at ESTH who writes books in his spare time, is my favourite author! During my days off, I head into nature to pursue one of my passions - photography. I also enjoy painting and spending quality time with my loved ones.” 

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Maria Fernandez, Lead Nurse for Renal Transplant, at St George’s

“Some days, it’s hard to believe that ‘Rhia from the Philippines’ has done all this”

“Matrons and sisters from St George’s came to the Philippines in 2000 to talk to nurses interested in working for the NHS. I was interviewed, and soon after came to London to be a dialysis nurse.

“My mum was worried when I left as it was my first time away from home. I had to learn how to cook, do laundry – all those things – but said I would try it for two years and could go home if I wasn’t happy. I’ve been working at St George’s ever since – 24 years, and I have loved every day.

“I always wanted to work in the renal department. I’ve gone from working as an Adaptation Nurse all the way to being the Lead Nurse for renal transplant.

“I’ve been supported to progress in my career and work on projects that have improved patient care. Making sure patients get the best treatment is important to me – like developing an electronic referral system for transplant work up that may be adopted nationally.

“Some days, it’s hard to believe that it’s ‘Rhia from the Philippines’ who has done all this. But St George’s gave me the confidence. Winning this year’s Renal Nurse of the Year award was not just about me, it’s for everyone in the renal team. We are a family always striving to deliver outstanding care.”

Kristina Middleton, Health and Wellbeing Lead at St George’s

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“Staff work hard caring for our patients and need to know there is someone there to support them”

“Our staff work incredibly hard delivering care for our patients and as a Health and Wellbeing Lead, I help to make sure our staff are cared for too. Colleagues can work long shifts in challenging circumstances and need to know someone is there to support them.

“Throughout the cost of living crisis, we were able to offer staff free food onsite and signpost them to local charities to help them get long-term support.

“But support can also be patients appreciating the difference staff make to their experience in hospital. Last year, we introduced Acts of Kindness awards based on patient and staff feedback that recognises the lasting impression positive staff action has in delivering care and creating a supportive working environment.

“Those receiving an award felt seen and appreciated, encouraging them to stay working for the Group. We will never be able to capture all of the kind acts taking place in our hospitals, but I am really glad we were able to spotlight some and reward people and teams praised by our patients.

“Some may say it’s an unusual hobby – but I’m doing a Ph.D. with Erasmus University Rotterdam on weekends, researching how people use available flexible working arrangements and the impact it has on individuals and organisations.”

Dionne Daniel, Director of Nursing - Fundamentals of Care

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"Helping people is very important to me – even more important than Arsenal."

“It’s been quite the journey to get to where I am now. Growing up in Trinidad, I wanted to be a nun. It wasn’t right for me though so I trained to be a nurse. A friend wanted to come to England – not me - but I said I’d come too. Then my friend stayed in Trinidad.

“I remember arriving in England so clearly. It was 27 November 1998, and it was grey and cold - not like Trinidad at all. I was only going to stay for a year and then move on to Australia or America. However, I stayed because I loved it here.

“Being Director of Nursing for Fundamentals of Care covers a lot of ground. Every day, I get to work with amazing colleagues to make sure patient safety is a priority, and meet staff in their own environment during walkabouts – there is so much to see, I could happily be there all day.

“I’m an Ambassador for the Cavell Trust, a charity that helps nurses, and is very close to my heart. I’ve been raising funds for them since 2017, including only hopping, skipping, and jumping for the whole of August.

“My faith and helping people are very important to me – even more important than Arsenal. In February 2010, I became one of the first street pastors in Eastbourne, and the first team outside of London, to care for, listen to and help people who are out on the streets at night.”

Mary Willocks, Maternity Inpatient Matron

This week we’re introducing you to Mary Willocks, Maternity Inpatient Matron at Epsom Hospital.

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Being at the birth of a much longed-for baby is always amazing and a privilege"

“I never want to lose my clinical skills and feel very lucky to be able to deliver care to our women and birthing people while managing my amazing team.

“I’ve been a midwife for 27 years and there have been a lot of memorable moments. Every delivery is special but being at the birth of a much longed-for baby is always an amazing moment and I feel very privileged to be a part of that.

“I’ve taken part in quite a few endurance walks, and in 2018 I walked around the Isle of Wight non-stop, a total of 106km, which took 38 hours. I walked with a group of midwives and together we raised £7,500 for the Triage Unit at St Helier.”

Deborah Gouveia, Senior Quality Improvement Advisor and QI Programme Lead 

This International Women’s Day, we’re introducing you to Deborah Gouveia, Senior Quality Improvement Advisor and QI Programme Lead at ESTH.

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“Letting people know how valued they are is so important. It’s something I’ve always done.”

“My grandfather was a pharmacist in Guyana, South America. Everyone called him ‘the medicine man’. I thought that sounded really exciting, so at 15 I did work experience on the chemist counter at Boots and ended up a qualified pharmacist – my first NHS role.

“Now I help improve the care we give to patients, and I love it. I’m proud to lead our Improvement Practitioner Programme, working with our fantastic leaders. I see myself as a super-connector – bringing people together to share skills and knowledge and make our care better.

“Letting people know how valued they are is so important, and it can make them want to improve. It’s something I’ve always done.

“My colleagues know about my love for quality improvement, but not that I absolutely love Guns N' Roses and Spurs. It was a dream come true when GNR was the first band to play at Spurs’ home ground White Hart Lane. I was there loving the sun and the sounds.”

Joana Lopes Gomes, Adult Safeguarding Clinical Nurse Specialist

Our first story is from Joana Lopes Gomes, Adult Safeguarding Clinical Nurse Specialist, who works at St George’s.

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“Being a nurse requires clinical expertise, but also the warmth and empathy of a fellow human being.”

"In adult safeguarding, our purpose is protecting and supporting those who are unable to do so themselves. We sometimes encounter difficult and distressing situations, but I’m thankful for every single person that has been referred to us. Lots of teams come together to make these patients’ lives more dignified.

"Being a nurse requires clinical expertise, but also the warmth and empathy of a fellow human being – with all the emotions that accompany it. When I was a ward nurse, a patient with cancer receiving end-of-life care started telling me her deepest thoughts. It was a true rewind through the years, from someone who was trying to wrap up a whole lifetime of memories – from proudest moments to regrets. I could not hold my tears back as I listened to her, and we ended up crying together. Before I left the room, the lady asked me for a hug. This happened quite a few years ago – but it still touches me deeply.

"It may surprise people to know that I didn’t have experience in adults safeguarding before I became a clinical nurse specialist. There are no limits to what nurses can achieve in the NHS. Skills can be learned, and there are always amazing opportunities out there."

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Healthy Workplace Achievement Award 2016 NHS Choices