Jaen Francisco is an occupational therapist lead in the frailty and admissions avoidance team at Kingston Hospital. Jaen, an eternal optimist and star baker, heads the Kingston Hospital team, which supports patients admitted to the emergency department to regain their independence. The team puts practical solutions in place to help people manage day-to-day activities, avoid hospital admission and return home safely from hospital.
This interview is part of a series, going behind the scenes to get to know the people who keep NHS services working – in winter and beyond.
What’s a typical day like?
Our days start early with a huddle with staff from the emergency department and the acute admission unit to discuss how we will manage our caseload. We also work closely with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and the community occupational health team, so there are a lot of logistics to consider. Our team will then see up to 30 elderly patients a day with complex concerns. Thankfully, I thrive under pressure.
What made you decide to work in the NHS?
I was born in the Philippines and worked as a health care assistant there after I left school. I came over to the UK for a holiday in 2004 and, while I was here, I found a job, stayed and worked my way up to this role. It was always my dream to work for the NHS.
Is there a patient story you remember?
I had one person who came in from a care home suffering from Alzheimer’s, but also chronic constipation and reduced mobility. He told me wasn’t eating well and I realised that because he didn’t have any teeth and wouldn’t wear his dentures, he wasn’t able to chew and had been swallowing his food whole and his digestive system couldn’t cope.
Doctors can prescribe a drug to help, but it is an occupational therapist that can look at the bigger picture to see what is going on. A quick call to the patient’s care home about a change in diet and we got to the root cause. This one intervention could mean the difference between someone spiralling into a decline or being readmitted in a few weeks. I advocate for patients, especially those who are not fully able to identify their needs and ask for help themselves.
What is a big challenge you face?
It is always the pressure of the front door. We have a lot of people who need our help coming in every day. I have to manage my staffing capacity and ensure their wellbeing by making sure they get breaks and the support they need. This is a very pressured environment, and we never get a quiet day to recover. Thankfully, we all look after each other as well as the patients and keep our resilience up.
How does your role help the NHS manage winter pressures?
The winter months see a big increase in frail patients coming into the hospital. Our role becomes more important than ever to avoid these patients being admitted if they don’t need to be and maximise the support they need for a safe discharge. If patients do end up being admitted, we want to put interventions in place so they can get home as safely and as soon as possible.
Tell us something about you that not many people know about?
I love to bake my stress away. I really enjoy trying new recipes and techniques and make everyone try what I have made. I think you could call me feeder! I’m also incredibly optimistic, maybe overly so, and I always see a positive over a negative. I think you must have that energy for this job.
What would you be doing now if you hadn’t chosen the NHS?
If I hadn’t pursued this career, I would have invested in my family business in the Philippines and opened a bubble tea shop, in fact when I leave my job in the NHS we will head back there and do just that.