COORDINATING the outpouring of community donations and offers of help for the NHS from her Abingdon conservatory during the coronavirus pandemic has been a mammoth but rewarding task for Hazel Murray.

“We realised very quickly that we were going to play an absolutely crucial role,” said the Oxford Hospitals Charity programme manager.

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“The first aim for us was to support staff because we knew they were going to be in a really difficult position with getting in and out of PPE, long shifts, access to food and other things.”

The 53-year-old joined the NHS in 2012, first at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe, Churchill, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Banbury’s Horton General, before moving to the charity that fundraises for the hospitals two years ago.

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Oxford Hospitals Charity team with care packs for staff

She said the charity ‘wrapped itself around’ the trust during the worst of the outbreak, explaining: “We took on the role of handling all of the calls of offers of help and donations, food offers and hundreds of requests coming in saying ‘How can we help?’.

“We said to the organisation ‘What would help you?’ and then we tried to match up the donations to the right areas.”

The mother-of-three said she realised early on there needed to be a new way to get the items to the wards as visitors were not allowed at the hospitals, to limit the spread of the virus.

So she set up a temporary charity hub in each hospital, aided by redeployed staff and volunteers, to get the donations out to the wards quickly.

“Every day we’d get deliveries of various items in and we’d get them out to the wards.

“We’ve delivered thousands and thousands of meals and care packages, treats and equipment to the frontline staff when they needed it the most.”

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This help included everything from ensuring patients got simple things like mobile phone chargers to providing meals for parents of young patients and funding remote monitoring for cystic fibrosis patients so they could shield at home and still keep track of their condition.

The charity has also kept spirits up with a series of bedside virtual concerts, where a musician will play live for a patient via a tablet.

It is in keeping with her regular role as programme manager, which involves deciding which projects, big and small, are awarded funding at the hospitals.

One of her most popular creations has been the small grants award, which funds £3,000 projects to help staff and patients, and regularly receives more than 100 applications per round.

An example she is particularly fond of is ‘tea trolley training’, a portable invention by critical care to deliver training to staff who can’t leave patients’ bedsides, which has now been used for 600 different training sessions.

At the other end the hospitals charity has also funded an £800,000 CT scanner for the John Radcliffe Hospital’s new Emergency Department extension.

Hazel is keen to stress none of the charity’s work, especially during coronavirus, would have been possible without the ‘fantastic’ small charity team and the level of support from Oxfordshire residents.

She said: “We’ve been extremely busy but we have absolutely been blown away by the response of the community. It’s been absolutely staggering.

“We’ve had so many kind offers and so many people have wanted to support our teams it’s been utterly tremendous.”

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She added: “We will never forget the experience of being able to support frontline staff and knowing that we could have made a little difference to them.”

For Hazel her decision to work for the NHS has been a deeply personal one from the start, prompted by her son Ben's diagnosis with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in 2005.

She had previously worked for almost three decades for Thames Valley Police at its Kidlington headquarters, rising to a senior level and even being invited to the Queen’s garden party in 2011 for her work for the force, along with her role as a school governor.

Her middle son’s illness was ‘a long road’ and involved three and a half years of treatment at Oxford Children’s Hospital, followed by five years of remission and yearly check ups until he was finally officially discharged at 18.

It gave her not only a deep insight and appreciation for ‘incredible’ hospital staff but a desire to give something back, eventually deciding in 2012 to leave her role with Thames Valley Police for OUH in a HR position.

She said: “It was a really good decision and I’m so glad that I made it. Now I find myself talking to clinicians and supporting the teams on Cameron’s Ward, where my son was treated, and other children’s wards.

“It’s a really lovely way to give back and support the team. It seemed to be a good fit for me, especially everything I’ve been through and learnt having a busy family and having a child going through this."

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She added: “It was quite a challenging time but we got through it and he’s doing amazing at university. How lucky we are to have the hospitals that we have on our doorstep.”

All three of her sons, aged 22, 20 and 15, have been at home during lockdown, and she says it has been a hectic but ultimately positive experience.

“I’ve been working long hours with a charity headquarters in my conservatory – my desk and my laptop and lots and lots of meetings - but the boys have been behind me every step of the way supporting me," she said.

“My husband has been here and he’s been helping as well doing all the shopping and the food and the keeping me going.

“We’ve been doing it together and trying to get some fresh air at the same time, now and again. It’s been incredible and they’ve been really supportive and it’s been nice having them here so I can look after them as well.”

She added: “It’s a juggling act being a busy mum working full time trying to keep everything going. It’s certainly been an interesting road. It’s been busy but I’ve loved every minute of it.

“We have managed to get a little bit of rest but my main focus is on supporting the staff in the hospitals and this was the time to do it. We did whatever it took to be able to do that.

“Time for a bit of a breather now.”

To find out more about the hospitals charity or to donate visit hospitalcharity.co.uk