Denise is the voice at the other end of the telephone


Have you ever wondered who answers the main phone number in a hospital? At St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Denise is one of those people and we caught up with her as a part of the Year of Health and Care Workers.

For the last 19 years Denise has been a part of the St Andrews Patient Administration team but came to us through a Hospital Administration traineeship. Despite the external training provider suddenly ceasing all support, Patient Administration Manager Lyn Greener decided to keep the training group on board.

All staff were encouraged to learn each of the roles under the Administration banner. Denise worked across Admission and Discharges, Pre-admissions, Emergency reception and then finally settled with the role of Main Hospital Switch Board operator.

Today, Denise sits in a large, quiet room, set up with two work stations, each with three display monitors and a special telephone for emergency hospital codes only. In the centre of the room, a long table houses fully prepared patient charts, ready for the following day’s admissions.

The digital telephone system is a fairly new addition to the hospital.

“When I first started, I was taught on an old model AVAYA analogue phone system and it was the first time I had ever seen a switchboard,” Denise said.

“Our headsets were physically attached to the console at all times and we had little “bingo boards” – meaning we could select a line on the main console then press a number that related to the patient’s room to connect the call.

 “The new digital system it has made work flow so much easier and we are also physically free from the console via a long corded headset.

“I’d say on average, we answer 300-400 calls a day, as well as being the central location for all code and emergency calls,” she said.

The quiet room reflects Denise’s approach to her work. Calm and methodical. No question or task seems to fluster her.

“As a switchboard operator, we are the first stop in the long line of a hospital process, not only for patients, but also for their relatives,” Denise said.

“I have been in this role for such a long time, that I am used to any odd or difficult phone calls – I’ve probably heard it all!

“Some calls can be difficult to action, like people seeking medical advice – we can’t give them advice, but we do the best we can in helping them,” she said.

Denise is looking forward to what’s next at St Andrew’s and excited to see where her experience will take her.

“At the end of the day, switchboard operators are a friendly voice to comfort the sad, lonely and sometimes angry – I enjoy dealing with all the different situations,” she said.