A teenager who gives up his evenings to volunteer at a North Wales hospital is calling on others to get involved.
Fazal Khan is a regular visitor to wards at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, thanks to his double role as a Robin Hospital Volunteer, plus working with the hospital’s in-house radio team.
The 18-year-old, who is planning to follow in his father’s footsteps as a doctor, is gaining firsthand experience of supporting patients.
Now Fazal is encouraging others to join the Get Involved initiative by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) and shape the future of health services in North Wales.
The website www.bcugetinvolved.wales provides a resource for people to find out about volunteering opportunities, give their views on health services, plus receive regular updates on BCUHB’s initiatives.
Fazal, who is studying for A levels in chemistry, biology and maths at Bangor’s St Gerard’s School, fits in his visits to the hospital’s cancer and dementia wards between basketball training sessions and piano lessons.
Fazal’s career ambition is to emulate his father Niaz Khan, who is a widely respected endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Imperial College’s London Diabetes Centre and in Abu Dhabi in the United Emirates.
With high hopes of going on to study medicine at university after his A-Levels, he was keen to get as much experience as possible of day to day routines in a hospital environment. He found out about BCUHB’s Robin Hospital Volunteer scheme after researching online with his mum Beverly.
Fazal said: “It’s so rewarding, I’ve learned valuable life skills from patients and from my co-workers who are all hugely inspiring.
“With living so close to Ysbyty Gwynedd, signing up to be a Robin volunteer was ideal for me. I’ve no regrets at all about signing up. It’s great experience, everyone is so friendly and helpful, and it gives me a real insight into what life is like on the wards.
“Hopefully I’m helping bring a little bit of cheer into the lives of the patients too!”
As well as being a Robin volunteer, Fazal also helps with the hospital radio, and is now recognised by some long-stay patients whom he regularly encounters when going round the wards gleaning information for the radio broadcasts.
Fazal added: “On my radio shift I’m usually here for about three or four hours and the first hour of that I spend visiting the wards, asking patients if they have any music requests.
“We get to have a bit of a chat and it’s nice when they remember me from previous visits.
“What’s especially good is that we’re talking to them about things which aren’t connected with their medical condition, so for a little while they get to take their minds of the fact that they are in hospital.
“Many patients have told me how invaluable they find the hospital radio as a means of relaxation and enjoyment.
He has been fascinated by the diverse array of music that patients request to be played on Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd.
“I’ve learned more about music in my few weeks here than in all the rest of my life!” he laughed.
“I’m getting to know some crazy songs from way back, which elderly patients like us to play. But they also surprise us on occasions by asking for obscure rock songs, Welsh choirs, traditional folk music, pop, jazz, all sorts. My interest in classical music is also developing too.”
He explained that the team do their best to meet patient requests, scouring their data base of music to find the right tunes.
“Even if we can’t find a particular song for that day’s broadcast, we will keep on trying till we eventually track it down,” said Fazal.
During his general ward volunteering days he gets satisfaction from being able to help the medical staff carry out some of the more simple tasks, such as carrying out errands for patients who may want something from the hospital shop, or a cup of tea or coffee.
He said: “I visit a few different wards, including the cancer ward and dementia wards, which do require a lot of sensitivity. It is rewarding to see the professionalism of the hospital staff and to see firsthand how much they have to do each day.
“My only wish is that I knew a little more Welsh, as a lot of the patients here are first-language Welsh speakers so it is sometimes difficult for me to communicate fluently with them, but I do my best.
“And there’s never any problem recognising the universal sign language for ‘Yes please, I’d love a cup of tea.’ In which case I’m always happy to oblige!”
Patient Alf Harris, a member of Llandudno Show Players and the U3A choir, said Fazal deserved a bumper round of applause for signing up as a volunteer.
The retired electrician of Craig y Don, who was recovering from a hip operation, said: “It’s heartening to see young people of his age doing such good work, especially with the hospital radio.
“I’ve been here nearly two weeks now and I know the radio is a treasured recreational outlet for many patients.”
Fazal is also a big hit with fellow broadcasters Barry Davies and Richard Wynn Parry, as well as the patients he frequently chats to about which tunes they would like to hear over the airwaves.
Ysbyty Gwynedd Radio broadcasts every afternoon, evening and on a Saturday morning, and recently celebrated its 40th birthday, having started out in a caravan in the car park. Now it has a fully equipped studio in the main hospital building.
Barry said: “We rely heavily on community support and on volunteers like Fazal helping to keep the station going. It’s so satisfying to have such an enthusiastic young person join the team, helping to keep the rest of us on our toes!
“Fazal’s a natural – from the moment I met him I knew he’d be good at this role. He was a little nervous the first time he had to talk live on the show, but we all are.
“Fazal soon got into it and now we have lots of fun, choosing and playing music patients like to hear, and having a banter about topical issues of the day.”
BCUHB Robin Hospital Volunteers Manager Sue Marriott said: “Fazal is very popular – he has just the right aptitude for the job and an empathetic demeanour when talking to the patients.
“He will have a talk with them if they feel up to it, or simply help with tasks such as getting them a cup of tea or a newspaper.
“It’s nice to have a mix of ages among our volunteers and I’m pleased to say that at BCHUB we have a number of keen young people like Fazal willing to help on the wards. They bring an extra dimension to the role and their visits can help brighten the day for some of our elderly patients.
“When a person applies to be a Robin we ask them about their own interests and what they are looking for from the role, then we try to fit them in a place which suits their interests best.
“With Fazal it was his fondness for music which gave us the idea of allocating a place on the hospital radio team. He also does a second night a week, of general volunteering on the wards and this offers him valuable experience of hospital life which will be a great asset when he studies to be a doctor.
“It is so easy these days for students to ‘cut and paste’ ideas from the internet but nothing can replace real life experience and that is what Fazal is getting at Ysbyty Gwynedd.
“In return our patients and volunteers are benefitting from his company, which is a real pleasure. He is so polite, compassionate and enthusiastic.”
BCUHB chief executive Gary Doherty was full of praise for Fazal and other volunteers who give up their time to get involved with the health service.
He said: “Thank you to everybody for all their hard work looking after patients and doing such a fantastic job.
“Our purpose at BCUHB is to improve health and deliver excellent care. We aim to put the patient at the centre of all that we do.
“We want the people of North Wales to know that they are being listened to, and that their views are making a valuable contribution to local health services in North Wales.
“You can help shape the healthcare services that you use by getting involved with BCUHB. There are lots of opportunities to get involved and share your ideas about how we can improve health in North Wales.
“We are keen to hear from you, whether as a member of the public, patient or carer, or if you have a compliment or a suggestion. It’s your local health service, help us to help you!
More details on how to become a volunteer or get involved with BCUHB at www.bcugetinvolved.wales or follow #BCUGetInvolved and #pbccymrydrhan