James Paget at 40: How Robbie helps hospital to run

A bird's eye view of the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston

A bird's eye view of the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston - Credit: JPUH

This month the James Paget University Hospital is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its official opening.

To help celebrate the landmark date we have been talking to some of the staff who work there and who have worked there.

Here we speak to Robbie Woods of the Transformation Team at the hospital.

Robbie Woods seen working at the hospital

Robbie Woods seen a chef at the hospital - Credit: JPUH

When Robbie Woods arrives at his desk at the James Paget today, his focus is on improving the hospital’s systems and processes, for the benefit of both patients and staff.

As one of the Transformation Team, Robbie has been involved in numerous projects, recently helping the hospital maximise use of its operating theatres, and introducing SMS text messaging services for patients, reminding them to attend their upcoming appointments so that slots do not go to waste.

But his career at the Paget started very differently - as one of the first chefs in the hospital’s brand new kitchens.

Robbie Woods is part of the hospital's transformation team

Robbie Woods is part of the hospital's transformation team - Credit: JPUH

Robbie started work as a pastry chef before the hospital had even welcomed its first patients, working under Head Chef Dave Caton, who moved across with Robbie from Northgate Hospital.

“With no patients on site and no patients to feed, it was a strange period as we became accustomed to the large equipment and how things worked,” said Robbie.

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“As our full brigade of chefs was split with a number continuing to work at the old General Hospital site in Yarmouth, the new chefs were all from local hotels and restaurants - and I can recall many of them complaining about their legs aching as they had to walk so far each day within the kitchen compared to the small compact kitchens they had come from!”

As everything was new, the catering team not only had to develop menus but also the logistics to deliver hundreds of meals to patients at meal times, right across the hospital site.

“We didn’t know where the wards were or what sequence we would use to deliver food trolleys. I can recall us doing trial runs and testing food temperatures as we went to ascertain the most efficient and effective routes,” said Robbie.

“We also did trial runs for the patient meal conveyor belt, where we would send 400 trays down with empty plates and cutlery and load the trolleys just to get our timings right.”

Another coronavirus-related death has been confirmed by James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston

The James Paget was officially opened 40 years ago - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

When the hospital first opened, there was a coffee lounge directly beneath the kitchen, in what is now the Broadland Suite. There, the catering team ran “the Gourmet Club”, serving high-quality meals to local dignitaries and business leaders, who paid for the four-course dinners which were all created upstairs in the hospital kitchens.

“These were extremely successful, led by the Chief Executive and got local people involved in the hospital. We would run maybe three every year but I am pretty sure we wouldn’t get an alcohol licence now!,” said Robbie.

But it wasn’t all work. Robbie can still recall annual five-a-side football tournaments which took place on the green at the rear of the hospital, with great rivalry between departments. The hospital also entered a couple of teams for the Gorleston raft race, with staff from various departments teaming up to spend weeks building their craft for the big day.

Robbie left the James Paget after 10 years to pursue a career in management at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Kings Lynn, where he left catering behind and went into Operational Management.

However, the lure of the Paget remained strong - and he returned to the hospital where he has now completed another decade of service.

“I always look back on my early days at the Paget with the fondest of memories,” said Robbie. “But, when I came back, I was not surprised to find the same warm, friendly and caring atmosphere still prevails.”