Do you know a health hero? The Daily Mail, in partnership with eBay and NHS Charities Together, wants you to nominate special people in the healthcare sector who have made a difference to your life, or to a loved one’s life. Seven finalists will get an all-expenses-paid trip to London for an awards ceremony. The winner will receive a £5,000 holiday. To make a nomination, fill in the form below right. Here, JO WATERS tells one nominee’s story…
Working flat-out as a GP, Dr Haider Ali was certainly doing his bit in the fight against the coronavirus.
Starting at 7am and finishing at 6.30pm four days a week, holding both online consultations and face-to-face appointments wearing PPE, Dr Ali saw up to 24 patients every morning and describes his workload as intense.
He also worked one day a week for free at his practice, sorting out benefit and housing issues for patients.
‘But when I spoke to colleagues working in hospitals in Manchester about what they faced on the wards each day — particularly the large number of deaths — and heard about GPs in the area dying from Covid-19, I wanted to do more to help,’ says Dr Ali, 37, who lives in Sale, Manchester.
‘Some of my colleagues had been redeployed from specialities such as dermatology to work on Covid-19 wards; although some took to it like ducks to water, others weren’t coping so well.
Working flat-out as a GP, Dr Haider Ali (pictured) was certainly doing his bit in the fight against the coronavirus
‘The day-to-day activity was so challenging that some colleagues who had worked overseas in the military described it as worse than a field hospital, as there seemed to be so many really sick and dying people.
‘I felt I had a duty to do more. Thankfully, most of my patients weren’t affected too badly by Covid-19, as a significant proportion of them are relatively young and healthy students.’
After seeing a news story about Manchester hotels opening to NHS frontline staff and other key workers who couldn’t go home to their families because of the infection risk, Dr Ali had a lightbulb moment.
‘I thought about how lonely these staff must feel away from their families,’ he says. ‘They would have no one to talk to about what they had seen that day, and I imagined the difference it would make if something could cheer them up after a long shift.
‘I came up with the idea of putting together care packages which I could deliver to the hotels for key workers, containing healthy snacks, bottles of water, hand creams, shampoo and other toiletries, instant soup, porridge — and socks.
‘I wanted them to feel looked after and appreciated.’
Dr Ali phoned hotels to see if he could drop off care packages over the next few days. ‘I went to supermarkets and spent £4,000 of my own money on goodies to put inside,’ he says.
‘I had my evenings and weekends free to do this, so it wasn’t too difficult to fit it in.
‘I asked my dad, Hussain, mum, Thaera Kadhim, and sister Sabrine, 27, to help me pack them — our house was quickly filled with boxes.
‘They’ve done a lot of charity work in the past and were only too pleased to help out for such a good cause.
‘In each bag, I put a note thanking the recipient for what they were doing for all of us. I added my name and personal phone number, too, in case they wanted someone to talk to. I made up about 150 bags for the first delivery two days later.’
Hotels were delighted when Dr Ali turned up with the care packages.
Dr Ali (pictured) put together care packages which he could deliver to hotels where key workers – who couldn’t go home to their families because of the infection risk – were staying
‘When I arrived at the first one and started unloading the bags, the staff and medics came out and gave me a round of applause,’ he says. ‘People were initially very surprised that a stranger would do this, but they were clearly very grateful and touched at the same time.
‘I wore PPE that I’d bought myself as I didn’t want to put anyone at risk of infection or waste NHS supplies.
‘I chatted from a safe distance to some of the medics who came down to reception. Some of them I knew from my training days and it was weird seeing them getting emotional.’
A few days later, Dr Ali was getting five or six calls a day from doctors and nurses thanking him for their care packages and wanting to chat about their shifts.
Volunteer driver who helped patients on the road to recovery
One man’s work as a volunteer driver has probably saved the NHS tens of thousands of pounds.
In just one week in April, Alasdair Warren, 67, of Perth, Scotland, made seven journeys driving vulnerable and older patients from Perth Royal Infirmary to their homes across the surrounding area. He clocked up more than 200 miles.
Alasdair is part of a scheme called Home from Hospital, set up by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) in January 2019. Older people going home from hospital without support are more than twice as likely to be readmitted within three months.
Some of Alasdair’s passengers had attended check-ups that they would have been unable to get to on their own; others had no one to take them home after routine medical procedures.
Geoff Bird, service manager for the RVS in Perth and Kinross, says: ‘Ensuring that these people can get home means bed-blocking doesn’t become an issue and the hospital can treat more patients.
‘This work also eases the pressures on the ambulance service by driving folk home and ensuring they are safe before leaving. It is great for people to get back to familiar surroundings, as this helps with their mental health, which can speed physical recovery.’
Alasdair, a retired criminal justice social worker, took up volunteering in January 2017 as he wanted to give something back. ‘I have suffered a lot of loss with family members over the years and the NHS has always been there for us,’ he says.
In just one week in April, Alasdair Warren, 67, of Perth, Scotland, made seven journeys driving vulnerable and older patients from Perth Royal Infirmary to their homes across the surrounding area. He clocked up more than 200 miles
He often does three runs in a day. ‘I love chatting to the old folk after a lifetime of working with younger generations,’ he says. ‘I’ve had a lovely but stone-deaf 105-year-old woman. Another passenger had met Britain’s last hangman.’
Alasdair also buys shopping for patients returning from hospital: ‘I get milk, bread, ham — the essentials. Some people live as far as 40 miles away, but it is satisfying to get them back.’
Once at their home, he does a ‘safe, warm and well check’, making sure the heating and electricity are on and there are no hazards in the home.
Pre-pandemic, he was also a social transport driver for the charity, taking clients to medical and personal appointments.
Geoff says that without Alasdair, the Home from Hospital scheme wouldn’t exist: ‘It’s not an exaggeration to say he has kept it afloat. Alasdair is so reliable, we hardly need to ask anyone else.
‘Pre-Covid, Alasdair would also collect up to a dozen older people in our RVS minibus and take them to a social club, wait, then drive them all home.
‘The trip takes nearly six hours, but it is a lifeline for pensioners who live alone.’
Nominating Alasdair for the Health Hero Award, Geoff says: ‘He is the nicest, most approachable man I know. When I asked why he did all this volunteering, he shrugged off his efforts.
‘He is far too modest to ever think of himself as a Health Hero — but he is.’
BY SHERON BOYLE
‘They said it helped having someone to talk to and I was glad to listen. The conversations weren’t too heavy, but many admitted they felt under strain and had really tough days.’
Dr Ali used social media to appeal to local businesses and national chains for donated goods so he could make more care packages.
‘One company delivered 225 kg of porridge sachets to my house,’ he says. ‘Another sent 5,000 snack bars, and an upmarket brand sent socks that sell for £18 a pair.
‘My family and I spent long hours making up more bags.
‘Asda, Costco and Tesco also donated goods such as food and toiletries — it seemed everyone wanted to help. It reinforced my belief that people are mostly good — this pandemic really did bring us all closer together.’
Dr Ali was soon out on alternate nights of the week making dozens of deliveries to hotels, pharmacies, GP practices and care homes — and later extended his rounds to include police and fire stations, too.
‘One night, I had to reload the car seven or eight times, such was the demand,’ he says. ‘I was fasting for Ramadan at the time so I felt quite tired, but the reaction I got when I made the deliveries energised me and I wanted to keep going.’
He started at the end of March and was still making deliveries in the third week of June.
‘I felt there were other frontline key workers who had been forgotten about but who were doing important jobs — many of them were in more danger than hospital workers,’ he says.
‘There was a lot of talk about NHS heroes at the time, but not so much recognition for what care home, practice staff and other community care workers were doing.
‘I found out which care homes had been badly affected in the area and made sure they all got packages. When I turned up at one care home, they came out and wanted to thank me. I said it was them who should be thanked, not me.’
Dr Ali is known for going above and beyond the call of duty, working one day a week for free at his practice for three months to sort out paperwork on behalf of patients who needed help with everything from housing admin and benefits queries to language translation.
‘Many of my patients had depression and couldn’t deal with the phone calls and form-filling,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t fit these emails and phone calls into my 40-hour working week, so I decided to do an extra day to help my patients, some of whom are socially disadvantaged.
‘After all, money is only money — I wanted to be able to sleep at night.’
Stacey Armstrong, manager of the Ferrol Lodge Care Home in Sale, Manchester, which employs 22 care workers, is one of many grateful recipients who wanted to nominate Dr Ali for The Daily Mail Health Hero Awards.
‘Receiving the goodies was a real pick-me-up for the staff at a tough time,’ says Stacey. ‘We could tell Dr Ali had really thought about the items he’d chosen.
‘It was so considerate for someone who was giving their medical expertise during the day to think of care home staff as well.
‘We are very proud that we managed to keep Covid-19 out of our care home and have had no deaths from the virus.’
Community nurse Dave Turner has been staying at the Hotel Football for the past 12 weeks to protect his wife, Mo, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, who both have underlying illnesses that put them in the Covid-19 high-risk category.
‘I’ve only been able to go back home on my days off and chat to my family at the garden gate,’ he says. ‘I haven’t been inside my home in months — I can cope, though, as I know I am keeping them safe. But receiving that care package at the hotel gave me a real boost. It was a random act of kindness from Dr Ali.
‘I was so delighted, I sent him a video message just to say what a difference it made knowing others were thinking of us. He thoroughly deserves to be nominated.’
Dr Ali also works as a lecturer and examiner at the University of Manchester Medical School, where he trained.
Born in Sweden to immigrant parents who fled Basra in Iraq in the time of Saddam Hussein, Dr Ali moved to the UK to study medicine, qualifying in 2008 and becoming a GP in 2013.
The packages contained healthy snacks, bottles of water, hand creams, shampoo and other toiletries, instant soup, porridge — and socks
‘This is the country that trained me as a doctor and I want to give something back,’ he says.
He adds that he is honoured to be nominated as a Health Hero but also a bit embarrassed. ‘This was all about sending some love to people who were working against the odds,’ he says.
‘These past few months have given me a renewed passion for the work I do. It’s a privilege to be a doctor and I feel I’ve done some good in a small way.
‘It has been hard work doing this on my days off but there are people working a lot harder than me.
‘At least I can go home to my family every night — others don’t have that support.’