The cooks, the cleaners, the porters: Unsung heroes on the frontline

An army of people are working behind the scenes in the battle against Covid-19

We are all doing our bit to try to reduce the spread of Covid-19. By staying at home, we are helping to keep the most vulnerable members of our society safe and also making life easier for the thousands of people who are working on the frontline, caring for those who are sick and providing other essential services.

But while we are aware of the lifesaving work being done around the clock by our healthcare workers, there is also a whole army of people behind the scenes keeping the show on the road and, by going into work every day, are putting their own health on the line.

We spoke to some of the unseen staff in various hospitals around the country about what their jobs entail and how it feels to be carrying on as normal in the middle of a pandemic.

Catering officer

There is a huge amount of goodwill both inside and outside the hospital

Allen Moore has been working as a catering officer at Mercy University Hospital, Cork for just over a year. His role includes the responsibility of distributing and managing the catering department and ensuring 300 staff (out of 1,000) and 300 patients get fed on a daily basis. The 70 staff in the catering team are always busy, but Moore says they are like one big happy family.


“There is a fantastic team spirit in the hospital at the moment with everyone from all disciplines working together to make sure everyone is okay. It’s a real family feeling with everyone pulling together to get the job done, particularly during the current crisis.

“There is also a huge amount of goodwill both inside and outside the hospital. While all the staff are doing their utmost to do their jobs as best as possible, we have also been inundated with donations from local food companies. We’ve gifts of Easter eggs, crisps, pancakes and a daily delivery of soup and sandwiches from Feed the Heroes which we distribute to the staff.

“This goodwill has made such a difference to the frontline staff and brightens up the day for everyone who is working so hard with patients. Things are undoubtedly different right now as everyone is wearing PPE [personal protective equipment]. We are encouraged to wear it both in the kitchen and when we are on the wards. But the one thing which hasn’t changed is the effort we put into the food we serve – we have always been complimented on it with some people even writing us letters after they’ve been discharged to say how good it was. This really makes our day as we want to give people the best food possible while they are in hospital.

“The day-to-day banter in the department is great and all the staff get on; it is a lovely place to work. And, just like the kitchen is the heart of every home, it is also the heart of the hospital.”


Carol-Anne Crowley has been working as a chef at Mercy University Hospital for the past 15 years, cooking and preparing meals for patients, their families and staff. She says while the role itself hasn’t changed much in recent times, everyone is working harder to ensure the utmost safety.

“Our daily routine hasn’t changed as we still have to prepare food for patients and staff, but we are even more vigilant regarding hygiene, and disinfect all of our kitchens every morning before starting work. We also need to wear PPE, gloves, masks and plastic aprons when plating meals and working in the kitchen as it is sometimes difficult to follow social distancing.

It's like an All-Ireland final – we're all in this together
and we will beat this virus

“But the crisis seems to be bringing out the best in people here. The Mercy values team spirit and I see everyone from all disciplines in the hospital working as a team – it’s like an All-Ireland final – we’re all in this together and we will beat this virus.

“The atmosphere and chat in the kitchen is great and I enjoy singing so like to sing a few songs throughout the day to keep the spirits high. I also get great satisfaction when complemented about a meal I’ve made, knowing I have made someone who was sick feel better through the food I made gives me great personal satisfaction.”


The only thing that's hard is that we can't interact with patients the same way as before because the PPE
makes it difficult to talk

Ger Sheedy works for Noonan’s Cleaners which is responsible for keeping Ennis Hospital spick and span. Having been in the job for eight years, he says there is a great feeling of camaraderie among staff from the top down as everyone is working together.

“My day-to-day job involves being in close contact with patients, doing their rooms, taking out their bins and all of the deep cleaning which is involved in hospital work. Not much has changed apart from the fact that I have to wear PPE and treat every patient as if they have the virus until the swabs come back.

“I’m not anxious at all about contracting Covid-19 as we’ve been through Sars and lots of other things so it’s just part of the job and we take everything as it comes. The only thing that’s hard is that we can’t interact with patients the same way as before because the PPE makes it difficult to talk, and now we have to get in and out of the rooms as fast as possible so the personality has gone out of the job.

“But, on the other hand, the atmosphere in the hospital is amazing. The nurses are so good, we are all helping each other out. It really seems like a partnership from management to doctors, cleaners and kitchen porters; no one seems to hold rank over anyone else, we are all just pulling together and mucking in with whatever needs doing.

“And I truly believe things will stay like this as people will have a totally different outlook when it’s all over. It is a great place to work.”


I think the pandemic has brought out the best in people

Ken Byrne has worked as a porter at the Mater hospital, Dublin, for more than 20 years. He says the job is busy and varied, but he can't imagine doing anything else.

“I do whatever is needed of me in the hospital. I worked for over 13 years in the main theatres and, since then, my job involves all sorts of things including transferring patients from A to B, getting blood or even removing remains, whatever it is that has to be done.

“Since Covid-19, it’s obviously busier at the hospital but it’s not more stressful as everything is in a day’s work. Of course it is a bit strange seeing people going around in masks and PPE as it isn’t something we would have seen before but we treat the patients exactly the same, no matter what their diagnosis. So if a patient has the Karachi (what we call coronavirus), we will treat them no differently and I’m not in the least bit nervous as it’s all part of the job.

“Everyone at the Mater is doing an amazing job and it seems as if they are all moving in the right direction to fight it; the medics are well ahead of it all the time and aren’t waiting for it to land on top of them. So it’s great to see the steps everyone has taken and the way they are ready for it. It puts people at ease when they know the staff will cope no matter what is thrown at them. And when we are positive, it helps the patients to feel positive too.

“I also think the pandemic has brought out the best in people as everyone is pulling together without a shadow of a doubt; it’s brilliant to see. There’s a great community here and I love my job. It really is a brilliant place to work and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”