02 Jun 2020

Sam Eyre-Williams is a dietetic support worker (DSW) in Betsi Cadwalder University Health Board (BCUHB). She works across community, acute and prescribing support settings. Sam graduated with a BSc (Hons) Psychology and Health studies from Chester University in 2006 and has worked across a variety of health, government and third sector organisations. She is currently working towards a diploma in Dietetic Support.

What drew you to your current dietetic support worker role?

My first job after university was as a recovery practitioner with a mental health charity ‘Hafal’. Hafal is an all Wales mental health charity. This role involved supporting those who are caring for someone with a severe mental illness.  During my time at Hafal, I was promoted into a role which allowed me to develop management skills, public speaking skills and networked with NHS mental health services and other practitioners. I started doing some slimming world consultancy work during my time at Hafal and eventually went freelance in 2014 after my second child. I supported over 150 members in 2 groups each week.   

A career in the NHS has always appealed to me as I value the organisation and I love helping people no matter what the circumstances. I spotted a DSW role in January 2017 and felt it was something I could really get my teeth into as I was interested to learn about a completely new profession. I felt this would give me the opportunity to apply my previous experience in mental health and weight management. The job specification and details offered both challenges and capacity for development, whilst allowing me to use my previous experiences.  

What are your roles and responsibilities?

I have a role to play in every step of the patient journey from referral through to discharge and beyond. In addition, I have some non-clinical roles within the department including co-ordinating resources, setting up enteral feed orders at home and student training. I am responsible for processing and triaging referrals of acute and community referrals as well as liaising with referrers for inappropriate referrals. I am available to support patients under dietetic care either to review or support dietetic colleagues. I work alongside my colleagues to deliver service improvement projects, staff training and streamlining of services.

In my role, every working day is completely different. My day usually begins with ‘DSW time’, where my colleagues and I can catch up on various tasks, , emails, home enteral feeding discharges, referrals, resource preparation and deliveries. Then I have time to work on particular tasks and work alongside my dietetic colleagues.

What do you enjoy most in your job role?

I enjoy so many aspects of my job, it’s very difficult to pinpoint my favourite. I have different supervisors for each individual section of my role, so it’s nice to work with a variety of dietitians. I enjoy getting to learn and develop in a range of clinical areas. I have a different supervisor for the different parts of my role, so it’s really nice to work with a variety of dietitians. Each of my supervisors have different styles, skills and experience. I enjoy getting involved and stuck into whatever is happening in my team. Each of these roles enables me to communicate with the patients in completely different ways.  Variety is the spice of life!

What challenges face Dietetic Support Workers? Is there anything that can be done to overcome these challenges?

I believe that the biggest challenge we face are the organisational norms of career progression. As support workers, we have a range of skills and competencies, which, with good governance and supervision could be used in many different areas. As support workers, I feel we can be encouraged to explore and expand on our scope of practice. Many of the skills and ‘extended roles’ of a support worker are not reflected in our career progression. Despite this, I know many dietetic managers are always fighting our corner helping us to achieve the best we can. For example, my manager is incredibly supportive and is always looking for new courses/ modules to strengthen our knowledge to help support DS careers.

I never feel like I am ‘just’ a DSW. I always feel like an important member of the team and I know that my thoughts and feelings are always taken into consideration. I believe that having a good relationship with all of my dietetic colleagues is essential to a positive working relationship and I am not afraid to question their reasoning behind a specific outcome or rationale. I also have a good relationship with the newly qualified dietitians and feel that my experience of working with the team helps them settle in more. 

What can NHS Dietitians and services learn from your experience of freelance work in the community?

Group sessions are definitely the way forward, as you can reach a large number of people in a very short space of time. Group sessions are becoming more and more common in our department and this is proving successful across both adult and paediatric services. This is a much more efficient use of clinician’s time, allowing those who are usually seen in clinic to be supported in an enviorment which facilitates learning, peer support and structured education. This also improves clinic waiting times allowing those in greatest need to be seen sooner. It’s a win-win situation. The benefits of group working extends beyond patient teaching. For example, staff training for MUST and ‘Food First’ can be successfully delivered in group settings, with shared experiences being a useful part of the session.  

What role do DSW’s play in service improvement.

I think we all have a part to play in shaping service improvement. We should all strive to deliver the best possible service for our patients, regardless of whether are senior management, admin or clinicians. In our team, we are always striving to deliver the best possible service for our patients. I am currently involved in a project streamlining referral pathways all dietitians and DSW’s to encourage consistency in patient care. Recently, we have had a number of new graduate dietitians begin their career with us, so these pathways are essential to help them to get to grips with our departments systems and processes. I feel that having come to my DSW role from another career has supported my ability to contribute to pathway development.

Have you faced any challenges as a DSW? How did you overcome these?

The greatest challenge I’ve faced was during a period of short-staffing. During this period, I was snowed under, triaging referrals, inviting patients to clinic, co-ordinating with the acute team and arranging domiciliary visits.  The community setting was particularly busy at this time, which meant I had to reduce the number of acute hours I did during this period just to try and keep things a float.  It was thanks to my team and management that I was able to overcome this difficutl period. I was recognised for my hard work during this time as my manager nominated me for a BETSI Star. This was amazing and I was really chuffed, as it highlighted to me how appreciated I was and showed all the stress and hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

Would you recommend BDA membership to other DSW’s?

I have been a member of the British Dietetic Association since starting my role. I would definitely recommend this to all other DSW’s as it’s an excellent way to engage with the profession. I find the DSW courses and email updates helpful and the website is user friendly. As a DSW, the BDA factsheets and information are really useful tools to promote dietetics and for background information.

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Author

Aisling Pigott RD

BDA Spokesperson and Dietitian

Sam Eyre-Williams

Dietetic Support Worker (DSW) in, Betsi Cadwalder University Health Board