IN just two short weeks the finalists of the Oxfordshire Health & Social Care Awards will be revealed.

Our judges are currently hard at work narrowing down their shortlist. The three finalists in every category will be announced in a special supplement later this month, profiling each hopeful and their efforts in the fight against coronavirus.

While we eagerly await the panel’s decision, this week we’re turning the spotlight once again on some of the incredible healthcare teams, frontline workers and volunteers currently in the running for an accolade.

Chantal Nicolau, a devoted live-in carer with Oxford Aunts, who went as far as preparing champagne dinners for her 100-year-old client to keep her in good spirits throughout the pandemic, is one of the unsung heroes nominated in the Domiciliary Care Worker category. She was put forward for the award by Shila Odedra-Silvera, head of business development at Oxford Aunts.

“Chantal embodies the ideal qualities of a live-in carer,” Shila said. “She is kind, compassionate, person-centred and selfless. This became even more crucial during lockdown when it became clear that the health risks associated with Covid-19 were particularly harmful to older and vulnerable people. When [her client] Mrs R. conveyed how low she felt that she could not see friends and go to a restaurant, Chantal brought the restaurant to her. On several occasions she made a lovely three-course meal with champagne or wine and played the part of cook, waitress and guest just to entertain her. When lockdown restrictions eased she started to reintroduce Mrs R. to her friends again, having social distanced afternoon tea parties in the garden.”

Among those vying for a spot in the Healthcare Team Award is the Oxford Hospitals Charity, whose staff and volunteers stepped up to the plate, joining the frontline at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak and turning virtually overnight into an emergency response team. The organisation was nominated by Sarah Vaccari, head of communications at Oxford Hospitals Charity.

“Throughout the pandemic the hospital charity and volunteer teams worked together to provide an unprecedented level of support for staff and patients across the John Radcliffe, Churchill, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Horton General and Oxford Children’s Hospital,” Sarah explained. “Overnight the charity changed from a primarily a grant-giving organisation to an emergency response team and voluntary services recruited new members to replace many of their regular team who had to shield. The charity set up an urgent appeal, reaching out to the local community, and liaised daily with critical care and ward staff to find out what they most needed – the volunteers then distributed this support across the hospitals. To quote the Trust’s chief nursing officer, they ‘wrapped their arms around us’ supporting NHS staff and patients throughout this complex time.”

Also in the running for the Healthcare Team Award is the Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Mental Health Helpline, a free service launched by NHS staff and care professionals in just seven days in response to Covid-19. Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds, who put forward the helpline’s volunteers for the award, praised the team for rising to the challenge of supporting the most vulnerable in their hour of need and, crucially, “diverting demand from 111 and primary care”.

“More than 2,200 calls have been received, 1,500 in the first seven weeks,” she said. “The can-do attitude of team members has been credited with overcoming challenges including timescale, co-location on multiple sites, aligning and maintaining differing clinical models across geographies, rapid recruitment and training, and uncertainty around commissioning. The team embodies the heart of the NHS – professionals from diverse sectors pooling expertise to care for patients.”