Nazirah Sheikpentoo works at Croydon University Hospital, serving up the nutritious meals that can make all the difference to her elderly patients’ recovery.
Jovial, talkative – in three languages – and an advocate for the nurturing power of food, Nazirah forms a strong bond with her patients, while managing to coordinate their complex diets.
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.
Tell us about your typical day
Every morning I’m given a diet sheet by the nurse in charge and, according to that, I serve my patients their breakfast, lunch and supper. Some patients have an easy-to-chew or pureed diet, some have restricted fluid intake and others have allergies. We have food for people on a low salt or high energy diets, we have halal options, vegetarian options, Caribbean meals – so quite a variety. There are so many things to consider. Anything you don’t understand you check with the nurse in charge because you could put a patient’s life at risk.
Are there challenges?
Sometimes people say they don’t want to eat or drink. We have people, who’re very confused, people with dementia. It’s quite challenging sometimes but I talk to them and explain that they need food with their medication to help it work, so they can go home. I had one lady who was very confused. She told me, ‘I don’t want to eat anything because I’m going home.’ She wasn’t going home so I had a conversation with the nurse. We kept an eye on her and I left the tray with some cornflakes and tea, with no pressure and she finished it all.
What’s your career history?
I used to work as a hotel receptionist. After I had my daughter, I stayed home until she started nursery full time. I joined Croydon University Hospital as a domestic assistant in October 2015. I did that for six months but I saw the ward hostesses at work and liked the look of that job. When I got the opportunity I applied and I got it. That was in March 2016. I’ve worked on various wards but mainly Heathfield (respiratory) ward and now acute elderly care.
What’s the best thing about the role?
I like feeding people and to talk to them. I speak English, French and Urdu, which is useful. I’ve had many opportunities to take on other roles, such as a healthcare assistant, but for now I like this one. I don’t just come to work for the money. I come with all my heart. I go home with the peace of mind that I’ve looked at everybody well.
Why the NHS?
My husband was already working for the NHS, in patient transport, so that got me thinking. I believe there are opportunities for me here. You can start at a junior level but if you want to go up the ladder you can. Now, because of my daughter, I’m happy in this job but once she’s capable of going to school and coming home on her own, I’m thinking about developing my career further.
Is there a patient story you particularly remember?
I had a patient. He was here for a long time and every morning he had porridge and a cup of coffee. When I’d served all my patients, he would call me and say ‘Naz, do you have more porridge?’ So, every day I gave him two bowls of porridge. The day he was he was leaving for a care home he was crying. So was I. You get attached to the patient so when they are leaving, you’re very emotional. They know our names better than the nurses sometimes.
Why is your role important to managing winter pressure?
If people are given the proper care, proper nutrition, they will get well soon and go home. But if they don’t eat well, their recovery is going to take time and they’ll be holding onto beds when other patients need care. I’m part of a whole team supporting patients – domestics, ward hostesses, carers, nurses, doctors. We all work together so everything is done at the correct time and the person goes home safely.
What do you get up with when you’re not at work?
I’ve got a a 23-year-old son. He’s finished uni and is working and my daughter just started at secondary school. I like cooking, so every day I cook for my family. My signature dish is biryani. I’m originally from Mauritius where it’s a traditional dish. It’s also cooked in Pakistan and India, but ours is completely different. I blend my own spice at home – it’s not too spicy but you can add pickles or chili.
What would you be doing now if not a ward hostess?
When my daughter started school, I could have gone back to my hotel job but I chose this one. Now I think I might like to go further in healthcare, nursing, or maybe something else.