Most of us will spend Christmas Day opening our presents, tucking into a turkey dinner, and making precious memories with our families.
So spare a thought for the hardworking NHS Wales staff who will be on duty this December 25 diligently caring for poorly and vulnerable patients.
We’ve spoken to nurses, doctors, ambulance staff and care home workers to find out what it’s like to work on the most festive day of the year…
Pauline Williams is an emergency call handler for the Welsh Ambulance Service based at its clinical contact centre in Llanfairfechan, Conwy.
She has been rostered to work a Christmas Eve into Christmas Day shift.
“We are a 24-7 service so Christmas Day is just another day for us,” she said.
“You can almost predict the type of calls of you’ll get. In the morning there are the people who’ve cut their finger preparing the veg and then after lunch comes the chest pains and dizziness because people have eaten a big meal.
“With the evening comes a lot of alcohol-related calls because people have been enjoying the festivities a little too much.”
She said the ambulance service prioritises life-threatening calls which means those in a less serious condition are likely to wait longer for help, especially at this time of year.
“Our message is to drink responsibly and think carefully before you dial 999,” she added.
“If your illness or injury is not life-threatening or very serious, call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47 – or 111 if it’s in your area – and there are nurse advisers on hand to help you. If you do need ambulance assistance they can arrange that for you. “
Prior to joining the ambulance service Pauline said she worked for Care Connect so her family are used to her working unsocial hours.
She added: “As for my Christmas this year, I’ll lay the table and prepare my veg before my Christmas Eve shift starts so everything is ready to go on the big day.
“I’ll sleep off my shift and then the festivities can begin.”
Dr Ian Bowler and Jennifer Stevenson
‘Flying medics’ Dr Ian Bowler and critical care practitioner Rhyan Curtin, along with pilot Jennifer Stevenson, will be on board Wales Air Ambulance’s Dafen-based helicopter this Christmas Day.
They will be on a 12-hour shift ready to respond to medical emergencies across Wales.
“The day will begin as I leave the house to travel to Dafen, arriving around 7.45am,” said Dr Bowler, a dad-of-three who offered to work on the big day.
“After a morning brief with the rest of the crew it’s down to business. We’ll generally get on with the usual day-to-day base duties which includes checking and replenishing equipment, training, and preparing for the phone to ring at any point.
“We try to make the most of Christmas Day until a call comes in. As soon as that phone rings it’s like any other day.”
Dr Bowler said there is usually a “special atmosphere” among the crew and the public on Christmas Day.
“I’ve worked Christmas Day many times previously,” he added.
“It certainly is quite special being on shift during the one day of the year where a large number of people are away from their usual jobs.
“In a funny sort of way we’re quite lucky to be working Christmas Day as people are very kind and usually deliver lots of treats to help pass the time.
“I’m especially looking forward to a wholesome Christmas dinner this year, made all that more special as it will be shared with my fellow colleagues.”
Alongside the Welsh Flying Medics, Babcock Pilot Jenny Stevenson will be flying the charity’s H145 emergency helicopter.
Jenny, who has previously flown with the East Anglian Air Ambulance, is the first female air ambulance pilot to reach the rank of captain in the UK.
She said: “The day starts early. I like to get ahead of the game so a first check of the day’s weather is essential.
“The priority then is getting the aircraft ready for the day ahead. That will usually involve doing a fuel check, an engine wash, checking there are no event-related flying restrictions, and then we all get together for our ‘morning brief’.
“Following the first cup of coffee at around 8.20am we all get together as a crew and discuss the day ahead including looking closely at the weather and how (if at all) it is likely to affect our ability to respond by air.
“This is a crucial discussion as it gives the medics an idea as to whether they will need to prepare to respond to a call by road.”
She added: “After our morning brief there’s plenty to be getting on with, whether it’s answering emails, catching up on admin, or keeping on top of studies. Everything stops though when that phone rings.”
Jenny admitted that even though she doesn’t mind working this Christmas Day she may feel a bit homesick.
“Living in Cambridgeshire but staying in south Wales throughout the festive period will be tough as my fellow colleagues will be able to return to their families after work.
“Despite not seeing my family until a few days later I wouldn’t have it any other way and it is an honour to be able to be there for the people of Wales when they need us most.”
Hayley Kay has worked on Tegid Ward at the Ablett Unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Denbighshire, since qualifying as a mental health nurse three years ago. She was appointed deputy ward manager in May 2019.
The ward provides assessment and support for older people who suffer from mental illnesses including schizophrenia and personality disorder.
This will be the third year in a row that Hayley has worked at Christmas.
She said: “I miss being with my family but it’s worth it to spread some joy to our patients during what can be a very distressing time for them.
“Many of our patients are in crisis when they arrive. Some can be very distressed because they need to stay in hospital over Christmas, away from their families. We try and spend as much one-to-one quality time as we can with them and we pull out all the stops to ensure they can enjoy the traditional Christmas that they might have had at home.
“This includes a traditional Christmas dinner with crackers and all the trimmings, watching the Queen’s speech and Christmas movies, and taking part in quizzes and other activities.
“I also organise a raffle every year among colleagues and we use the money raised to buy presents for patients which they open on Christmas morning.
“It’s just about showing kindness and delivering truly person-centred care.”
Lori works as a district nurse deputy team leader with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
She said it was a “privilege” to look after those in need in their homes and communities on Christmas Day.
“I’ve worked on Christmas Day in the past and actually volunteered to do it this year,” she said.
“I enjoy working Christmas because, as district nurses, we have the privilege of bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people in our communities who may not see anyone else all day if we didn’t pay them a visit.
“I’ll be visiting my list of housebound patients who need a call from the district nurses for a variety of reasons. This could be anything from helping them to administer their insulin to providing palliative care.”
She said after her shift she will be “hitting the road” and driving to Tenby to spend the evening with her family.
Nick Selway joined Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board two months ago as a domestic assistant, working as part of the hotel services team to keep Ysbyty Glan Clwyd ticking.
The 49-year-old lost the use of his right arm after being struck by a steel sheet at a previous job 16 years ago.
Having found it difficult to even get an interview to return to work he initially joined the health board as part of its Step Into Work programme.
On Christmas Day Nick will be supporting his colleagues in housekeeping and portering by overseeing the inventory in Glan Clwyd’s stores where resources and equipment for use throughout the hospital is kept.
Nick said: “Even though it means working on Christmas Day I’m really looking forward to being here.
“I’ve been made to feel really welcome and really enjoy my work. It’s great to feel like you’re making a contribution to the care patients are receiving at Glan Clwyd.
“All I needed was an opportunity to show what I can do and Step Into Work helped me do that.”
As well as keeping a close eye on the hospital’s resource inventory Nick will be getting involved in housekeeping duties, working alongside a team of 120 staff who help tackle infections and keep the hospital clean.
Joanna Wojcik and Gillian Mace
Caterers Joanna and Gillian have arguably one of the most important jobs on Christmas Day – cooking a slap-up festive dinner for the inpatients at University Hospital Llandough.
“We don’t really mind working Christmas Day and have both done it before,” said Joanna.
“The atmosphere in the hospital is wonderful. The team all pulls together and dresses up for the day. Our job will be to serve our inpatients a delicious Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.
“We love seeing their faces light up when we arrive for the lunch service.
“Once we’re finished we go back to our respective families and celebrate like everyone else: giving gifts, having fun and enjoying our own Christmas dinners.”
Nisha Thomas is looking forward to celebrating Christmas twice this year.
She will enjoy a traditional celebration with her family on Christmas Eve and then gets to do it all over again with her “second family” – the residents who she looks after at the 40-bedroom Plasgeller care home at Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale.
The mum-of-three has worked at the home for nearly 16 years and for most of them she has volunteered to work Christmas Day.
She said she never hesitates for one moment when asked to spend one of the most special days of the year at work.
“Working Christmas Day is really not a chore for me. Quite the opposite, I love it,” she said.
“I consider myself very lucky to be able to have two Christmas celebrations each year.
“I always have a traditional meal and heartwarming get-together with my family on Christmas Eve. Then on December 25 I have the pleasure of seeing the residents I’ve cared for all year enjoy this special time.
“It’s so great to see the joy on their faces as they open presents, delight in their relatives and friends visiting, and join in the day’s festivities like Christmas lunch and singing Christmas carols.
“We also have to remember that some of our residents either don’t have immediate families or they live far away or are unable to visit so it is important that we are here for them too.
“We want them to know we enjoy spending time with them whatever day of the year it is, that they are in our hearts, and we are all one big family here at Plasgeller.”
A committed Christian, Nisha and her family always attend the festive service at All Saints Church, Ebbw Vale, on Christmas Eve, and then enjoy time together at home in Ebbw Vale. Nisha lives just a couple of miles away from Plasgeller.
She added: “My sister and brother-in-law and all our families come along to our house and we have a lovely Christmas Eve together with a meal and relish the chance to make and share happy memories.
“Everyone accepts that I have to work Christmas Day and is completely understanding of it.”
The idea of working Christmas Day is nothing out of the ordinary in Nisha’s household as she has done it for so many years.
And this year her husband Aji Jose is also working December 25 at Plasgeller Care Home.
Nisha said: “He is a nursing assistant here and, like me, he is happy to work Christmas Day.”
But the two will not see much of each other.
“I work days – 8am to 8pm – and Aji does the night shift so we will be a little like ships passing in the night,” laughed Nisha.
Their three daughters, twins Nia and Nila, 16, and Aimee, 13, are also fully behind their decision.
Nisha said: “The twins both hope to go into nursing careers and they have been doing work experience at Plasgeller so they fully understand the reasons why we choose to work.
“After all Christmas is about giving and this is one of the best ways we know to give back to the community where we live.”