Shelagh, procurement administrative officer, NHS Highland

I’m Shelagh and I’m a procurement administrative officer. At the moment, I’m working in stores helping with the NHS COVID-19 response.

My husband is a corporal in the army, and we have 3 children between us.

I started in the NHS on a temporary contract at the beginning of 2020. When COVID-19 hit, I was told that they really needed my skills over in stores. I moved over there and then progressed onto an NHS contract in October 2020.

In stores, we are dealing with anything that enters NHS Highland from aprons to cannulas to syringes. They enter here and then go out to hospitals throughout the whole of the North of Scotland.

How long did your husband serve in the armed forces? 

My husband’s been in the armed forces for 10 years and I met him 6 years ago.

What was your perception of NHSScotland before you started your current role? Has your view changed since you started work here? 

You just think of a hospital as a place where nurses and doctors poke and prod at you if you’re sick! Obviously, there must be receptionists and people who do the work in the background, but I really didn’t think about that, to be honest.

Since coming into procurement and then into stores, I am much more aware of how it’s not just that. Even the vaccination programme is not just a jab in the arm. So much goes into getting to the point where people are being vaccinated. Everything must be ordered, organised, stored, and paid for.

It’s a much bigger operation than I ever understood before. I now have so much of a wider view of how everything fits together.

What attracted you to apply for your role? 

It was a bit of an accident! I worked in the Highlanders’ Museum, which is inside Fort George, where my husband was working. In that role, I was digitising collections, because there were hundreds of years’ worth of records there. It was an amazing job, but the funding came to an end, so I got made redundant just after Christmas 2019.

Then an agency gave me a phone and said “we have this role coming up, would you like to apply for it?” I thought I’d go and see what it’s about. When I went to the interview, I really liked the 2 people that interviewed me.

When COVID-19 hit, I was able to keep going and that was great. I love being in stores because I find the work really suits me. I also feel like I’m doing something productive. I feel like I’m doing my bit to help deal with COVID-19. That probably sounds a bit high and mighty, but it is my goal!

What skills and knowledge were you able to bring to your new role?

I had to learn a lot about the procurement side of things when I first came in. I’d worked in sales and things like that, but I’ve not seen things from the buyer’s point of view before. There are times where the system seems very complicated. I’ve had to learn a lot about how the systems work in the NHS, but that’s been a matter of picking up skills and knowledge while I work.

The skills that I’m using in stores are skills I’ve been building up for the last 20 years. I started doing admin on building sites and construction companies, so I’m used to keeping records and moving things from A to B. Obviously, it’s not concrete I’m moving now it’s PPE! But the same principles apply. 

How did you and your family find settling into your new role with NHSScotland? 

We’ve been very lucky because I think the army’s changed quite a bit in the last few decades. It used to be that you moved every two years, regardless of circumstances. Now they move the more senior non-commissioned officers and they keep most others in the same place. It means that we’ve not needed to move. It's great because we want to keep my step-daughter where she is for school. She’s 16, so it’s good if she can stay in the same place for the next few years, for her exams.

What advice would you give to other partners or spouses of serving personnel who are considering a role in the NHS?

I think having had lots of different roles is not a bad thing, because you learn a lot of skills. A lot of what I did was temp work and contracts because building sites are only there for a short period of time.

Moving around a lot, you learn to pick things up very quickly because you have to. You’re moving to a new job every couple of years and you have to pick up skills quickly and get to know people really quickly.

You learn to think that, alright, the work you’re doing isn’t exactly the same, but it’s very similar. You know, like the PPE and the concrete are different things, but the principles and the process are the same. Maybe you’ve managed a group of volunteers. The skills and experience of doing that could help you when managing teams at work.

Poppy Scotland does a lot of support for people to help them find work or get into different courses. They’re a very good resource for spouses or partners!

What do you think of NHSScotland as a place to work? 

I think it’s a really good place to work! It has a really good family value to it, with the family-friendly policies. That’s great for my family. Even though we are fairly static, my husband isn’t around at the moment, so I can’t rely on him to help me out. In some military families, the spouse ends up single-parenting for quite a while. If the children aren’t well or need to be taken to different extra-circular activities or anything like that, the spouse needs to do it.

In the NHS, we have flexibility built-in. It means I can work and still be available as mum and grandma too. I feel comfortable going to my boss and saying, “this is the situation”. I know there are policies that will allow for the flexibility I sometimes need. You don’t get that elsewhere.