Zohrah J Akhtar is a Discharge Coordinator Assistant at Kingston Hospital. Zohrah and the team are vital in making sure that patients are discharged in a timely and safe way when they are ready to leave hospital.
As the Covid pandemic began, Zohrah realised she wanted to help people and left her job flipping burgers to volunteer at her local hospital, before joining the team at Kingston Hospital. Not only does Zohrah help people at work, but she volunteers in her community in her spare time too.
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?
I work a lot with the emergency department where the doctors tell us who needs to be admitted and who is well enough to go home. With those that can go home, we work hard to make sure they have somewhere suitable to go, that they have enough care in place and that it is safe for them to be discharged.
This means talking to hospital and community teams and getting plans in place as soon as possible. My job is like juggling and can be stressful, but I find it really rewarding.
What made you decide to work in the NHS?
I got into this role by volunteering. I decided to leave my job as a business manager at Macdonald’s and volunteer at West Middlesex Hospital when the pandemic started. I thought, I’m working really hard, cooking burger and chips, I want to work really hard at something that will help people, and here I am.
Is there a patient story you remember?
There are so many that stay with me. One patient came back a couple of weeks after they were discharged with a card to say thank you. This lady had been admitted after having a fall. She lives alone and has no next of kin nearby.
By working closely with the community rehab team, we were able to get her back to her own house and to help her maintain her independence. She was just so grateful that she hadn’t ended up in a home before she was ready.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
One challenge we face is trying to balance what our patients want, which is often them being discharged back to their homes, with what is best for them and their health. I will always be an advocate for our patients and do everything I can to get them back to an environment where they are happy and safe. This is where our links with the community teams are invaluable.
How does your role help the NHS manage winter pressures?
Winter is a hard time for people. As well as winter illnesses like flu and covid, we also have patients struggling with their mental health, loneliness and illnesses caused by the cost of living crisis.
We have patients who can’t afford to heat their houses or have mould in their bedrooms. Our role is to get a discharge plan in place before a patient is medically fit to go home. Making sure they have a safe and suitable place to go when they leave hospital is big part of that. Keeping patients moving is vital to the flow of the hospital.
Tell us something about your that not many people know?
I’m a Brown Owl. I have my own Brownie and Guide groups and have recently agreed to take on the Rainbows too, which is the younger children. I was a Brownie when I was younger and really enjoyed it, so decided I wanted to volunteer now I am older and I love it.
What would you be doing now if you hadn’t chosen the NHS?
Probably volunteering somewhere. I do a lot of voluntary work at my local mosque. We do charity work and cook meals for people. It’s a way I get to spend time with my dad as he volunteers too and we spend hours in the kitchen together at weekends.