James Paget at 40: Helen's hospital journey since 1982

Helen Cruess was worked at the hospital since 1982

Helen Cruess was worked at the hospital since 1982 - 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. Here we speak to Helen Cruess, who has been at the  hospital since it opened.

Workforce Business Partner Helen Cruess is one of a handful of staff who have worked at the James Paget since it was officially opened in July 1982.

It was during that month that Helen first walked through the front doors of the hospital - having to cross a picket line, where staff were joining a national protest about low pay.

Her first role was secretary to the District Patient Services Officer. She quickly progressed to become an administration officer at a time when everything was paper-based and computer systems were very much in their infancy.

Helen Cruess' staff card at personnel officer

Helen Cruess' staff card as personnel officer - Credit: JPUH

“There wasn’t an IT department in those days - and, in fact, we only had one computer system called the Patient Admin System,” recalled Helen.

The system was used to update the Regional Health Authority on the daily bed numbers - but even that relied on paper returns completed by ward clerks.

More promotion followed, with Helen taking on the role of Medical Secretaries Leader.

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Again, technology was still some way off.

“The team were using manual typewriters and progressing to electric machines, there were no computers then,” said Helen. “We used to have regular visits from the typewriter engineers who would make repairs and carry out services - like today’s photocopier engineers.”

While in this role, Helen worked with the Surgical Secretaries to implement their first computer system, which stored patient details which and helped the teams generate patient discharges summaries.

“This wasn’t a nationally procured system, linking up departments or even other hospitals. It was a standalone system, designed by a local company. If it developed a problem, the solution was to turn it on and off - and, if that didn’t work, call the guy who built it to come and get it going again.”

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

The James Paget University Hospital is celebrating its 40th 'birthday' - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

As the hospital grew and developed, Helen’s role evolved with it. In 1995, she left the world of admin to specialize in HR, which at that time was known as personnel.

Helen became one of the hospital’s first Personnel Officers, along with Debbie Wilby and Denise Attew.

It is in this field that Helen has progressed her career at the James Paget, becoming a senior human resources officer in 1999. In this role, Helen was responsible for implementing the ‘Improving Working Lives’ initiative, which saw improvements including the installation of water fountains across the Trust and a picnic table for staff to use during their breaks, outside the Education and Training Centre.

Now working as a Workforce Business Partner, Helen looks back at her time at the Paget with a great deal of pride, with many happy memories - as well as a few adventures off-site.

“I can remember going over to the old Northgate Hospital to get some patient notes - and we had to ensure we walked around the edge of the room as the floor was weak in the middle - and if we stood on it, there was a danger it would collapse.

“And, I had to help bail out the lift at the old Lowestoft Hospital, when there were still patients there, after there was a bad storm one night.”

Helen can also recall the many fund-raising events held over the years for different wards and departments. She was involved in several charity bed pushes around Great Yarmouth - and can remember football tournaments between departments as part of the Trust’s annual fete, brightly-decorated floats entered for local carnivals - and evenings in the social club at the Burrage Centre.

Overall, the Paget is a place where Helen has enjoyed a fulfilling career and where she has had the opportunity to achieve her professional qualifications

“It’s the people that make the Paget what it is,” said Helen. “We are like a family.”

“There have been some turbulent times at the hospital but what keeps you going is believing that in a small way what you are doing helps and supports the staff who are giving hands-on care to patients, so they can do the best they can.”