With staff at breaking point as the NHS faced the biggest crisis in its seven decade history, everyone working there had to do their duty to fight the pandemic.
And alongside the doctors, nurses and support workers was a hero of the furry variety – Jasper the cockerpoo.
Yesterday the cutest member of the army of health workers enlisted to tackle coronavirus was given an award to recognise the vital emotional support he provided to burnt-out staff.
The six-year-old hospital dog has been recognised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) by being awarded the charity’s prestigious ‘Animal of the Year’ accolade in a ceremony at the House of Lords.
Therapy dog Jasper, along with owner David Anderson, a hospital chaplain and counsellor, supports more than 9,000 staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust hospitals.
Yesterday Jasper the cockerpoo (pictured with two clinical nurse specialists) was given an award to recognise the vital emotional support he provided to burnt-out staff
Therapy dog Jasper, along with owner David Anderson (both above), a hospital chaplain and counsellor, supports more than 9,000 staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust hospitals
When Covid-19 hit, the area was one of those worst-affected, so Jasper was no longer able to visit patients as he had previously.
Instead, with the huge strain on staff working through the darkest days of the pandemic, Jasper instead provided support to nurses and other frontline medical staff.
‘Jasper’s role has always been to make people smile and feel better, and during the peak of the pandemic, when everyone was giving so much, sometimes staff just needed to have a cuddle with Jasper, have a cry and go back to the wards,’ said Mr Anderson, 46.
‘We are thrilled that Jasper has been given this award from IFAW and will ensure he has a few extra treats on the day in recognition of all his hard work!’
Jasper is trained to go to people showing distress or crying and is very perceptive to the emotions around him.
More than 1,000 hospital staff have taken part in ‘Conversations with Jasper’ sessions enabling them to spend quiet time one on one with the dog or in small groups.
Clinical nurse specialist Leanne Smith, 45, described Jasper as providing ‘a beacon of light in all this darkness’.
Meanwhile her palliative care colleague Helen Kirkwood, 42, said: ‘When you felt you were breaking, Jasper and David were there for you and kept you going.’
Jasper at work in Blackburn hospital where he helped NHS nurses through the pandemic. The six-year-old hospital dog has been recognised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare
Jasper pictured with pharmacists Susan Holgate, 35, and Emma Coupe, 28. He is trained to go to people showing distress or crying and is very perceptive to the emotions around him
When he is not at work, Jasper enjoys being a normal pet, going for walks with his owner at home in Preston and playing with the many toys he receives from NHS staff
James Sawyer, UK Director of IFAW, said: ‘Jasper is an amazing dog and his work with David and hospital staff is a fantastic example of the positive relationships between animals and humans.
‘When we heard about the difference Jasper was making to the lives of our dedicated NHS staff working during such a challenging time, we knew he would be a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Animal of the Year Award.’
Pre-pandemic, Jasper accompanied Mr Anderson to visit patients undergoing end of life care, as well as those suffering a mental health crisis or recovering from a stroke.
With NHS staff still bearing the ‘scars’ from an intense 18 months, Jasper’s owner hopes the award will encourage other trusts to look into using therapy dogs.
When he is not at work, Jasper enjoys being a normal pet, going for walks with his owner at home in Preston and playing with the many toys he receives from NHS staff.
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