A health boss sprang a massive “surprise surprise” when he presented an award to dedicated specialists who work to rehabilitate stroke patients.

Gary Doherty, the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), gave the inaugural Gwobr Seren Betsi Star Award to the team based at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, in Bodelwyddan.

Occupational therapist Shirley Heaven and members of the Stroke Early Supported Discharge Team had been told they were attending a strategy meeting and were “flabbergasted” when the chief executive walked in.

“It was a bit like TV’s Surprise, Surprise,” she laughed.

“We really had no idea about this at all. It was a complete surprise. We are all so proud and honoured to have been chosen to receive the first ever of these awards. But to be honest none of us ever consider that we are doing anything extra special. We are just doing the job that we love, to the best of our ability.

“Helping stroke patients to rehabilitate into family and community life is a real privilege. It is the patients who do the real hard work in their efforts to recover, while we guide them along the way.”

Mr Doherty revealed they had been selected as the first ever winners of a star award, one of which it is hoped will be presented every month to staff across the BCUHB authority.

He said: “It is more than just an award, it is a thank you from us, to show how much we appreciate the hours of hard work and dedication that our staff so regularly put in.”

The Stroke Early Supported Discharge Team was set up in 2014 as a pilot scheme funded through Intermediate Care Funds for North Denbighshire to rehabilitate stroke patients in their own homes. Feedback has shown it to be a huge success, with patients responding positively to treatment carried out in a familiar environment.

Co-ordinator Jamy Ashton, who nominated the team for a Betsi Star, said: “Patients who have suffered a stroke will initially come onto the wards as usual, but when they reach the recovery stage we look to provide therapies, which would normally have taken place in hospital, at their own homes.

“It reduces the length of their hospital stay and the associated costs of long term hospitalisation, while still providing the same intensity of care from a wide range of skilled therapists.

“While the scheme is still in its early stages the responses from patients have been excellent and the idea of treating them in the environment where they will be living their lives makes total sense.

“For instance, we have kitchen facilities in the hospital where we can help rehabilitate patients in domestic skills such as making a cup of tea or a piece of toast. But doing that in their own kitchen where they know where all the equipment is and are familiar with what goes where, makes so much more sense. After all it is that kitchen which they will be using in the future.

“We can also better identify problems and tasks or issues which might need extra work, such as helping them negotiate stairs or slightly unusual home layouts.”

The team consists of a range of experts including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, who work together to assess each patient and provide a recovery programme tailored to each individual.

Glan Clwyd Hospital is one of only a handful of hospitals across Wales that offer the Stroke Early Supported Discharge Service.

According to Mr Doherty, it was an example of “teamwork par excellence” with representatives from a range of different skill sets all contributing to the ongoing recovery of vulnerable patients.

“The service tailors the recovery programme to suit each individual and the level of enthusiasm and dedication from every member of staff involved is beyond compare. They do not consider their role as a job, but as a real vocation.

“This is exactly the sort of level of service that we envisaged rewarding when we launched the Gwobr Seren Betsi Star Awards this month.”

Two members of the team, Shirley Heaven and Julie Hirst, are allocated the task of visiting patients in their homes and guiding them through the different therapy sessions.

Julie said: “It is deeply moving and rewarding to be allowed into the family homes of our patients and to see them gradually improving with each visit. Most are happy to be treated at home as they find that familiar environment comforting and reassuring.”

Shirley added that 84 patients had now passed successfully through the project.

She said: “While not every one gets to a stage where they are as able as they were before suffering a stroke, a majority of them do regain that all important sense of independence and benefit enormously from the feeling of being in control of their own lives once more.

“For ourselves, job satisfaction obtained from seeing a person progress from incapacitation to a stage where they can again lead an independent life is as great as any award, though we are obviously thrilled to have been presented with the Betsi Star accolade.”

Fellow team members, Alaw Jones and Ailsa Lucking agreed that the award was a real feather in their caps.

Alaw said: “It is so nice to receive a thank you like this, especially from our peers. It’s a much appreciated acknowledgement of the work the whole team puts in.”

Ailsa said: “It is a great idea and a lovely way to surprise staff who work so hard consistently throughout the year.”

Ysbyty Glan Clwyd assistant nursing director, Alison Griffiths, said she was extremely proud that the first ever star award had gone to a team from Glan Clwyd, adding: “It is an honour which we will remember for many years to come.”

Nia Thomas, BCUHB’s head of organisational development, said: “We already have an annual awards presentation but this is something a little bit extra and more personal. It will reward individuals or teams who have gone out of their way to ensure we offer the highest level of care.

“We want to recognise staff who go the extra mile to embed the values deep within the organisation’s culture, of improving health and delivering excellent care. We value the hard work and commitment shown by staff and we want to show our appreciation and share this with the wider organisation and beyond.”

Staff can be nominated for a star award by their managers or team leaders, co-workers or patients, their families and members of the public.

Nominations are then considered and winners selected by BCUHB’s ‘Proud Of’ working groups, made up of a wide cross section of staff from across the health board.

Winners are presented with a certificate, a commemorative Welsh Slate trophy and a star badge which they can wear at work.

Other members of the Stroke Early Supported Discharge Team include: Lavinia Tilley, Maureen Bartley, Mari Roberts, Zach Spargo, Janet Eckersall, Claire Jefferies, Lisa Titchner and Anna Pardnjac.