Volunteer celebrates milestone achievement this Volunteers’ Week

Posted: 04/06/24

woman left and man right both smiling

A VOLUNTEER at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) is celebrating a milestone achievement.

Paul Chappel has reached an impressive 50 years in the Trust, having worked as a pharmacist before becoming a volunteer.

“Why on earth did I accept this job offer?” That was the question Paul admits he asked himself after three days of working his new job at St George’s Hospital in Morpeth.

Paul studied at the Sunderland School of Pharmacy from 1960-63 and then spent three years working as a junior pharmacist at the general hospitals in Newcastle.

From 1966-74, he was Deputy Chief Pharmacist at the South Shields general hospitals.

“I applied for the position of Chief Pharmacist at St George’s Hospital only half seriously after reading the most off-putting, but challenging advert in the Pharmaceutical Journal in February 1974,” Paul remembers.

“Six of us had been shortlisted and at the end of March we turned up for interview at Northumberland Health Authority HQ, built on the huge campus of St George’s Hospital.”

Candidates were given a tour of the grounds, which included a football pitch, bowling green and working farm.

Paul added: “The pharmacy was housed in a totally unsuitable building with the only desk jammed into the dispensary. In my opinion, the department needed at least twice the number of staff to operate the 1,000 beds just on that site, let alone provide the service for Northgate and St Mary’s hospitals, which both had 600 beds!”

Despite his misgivings, Paul was offered the job and accepted it.

“I had prayed about this job interview and felt it would be right to accept the position if it was offered,” he said.

“Since then, I have had God’s guidance daily. Times I have felt this have been when I was asked to provide services to all of the Northumberland community health visitors, nurses, podiatrists and dentists working from health centres and clinics; the 10 years I had to wait for a new department (and more staff); when I started providing Public Health pharmaceutical services to Northumberland; the time I was offered the job of District Pharmacist for the whole of Northumberland, even though I had not applied for it; and when I became Trust Chief Pharmacist for the various NHS Trusts providing mental health services to Northumberland and Tyneside.

“I thank God for being allowed to start a Monday evening session, which any patients or staff could attend, to discuss matters of faith. This was in 1974, nearly thirty years before I retired from the Chief Pharmacist post to enable me to train for and volunteer as, the first hospital chaplain in Northumberland.”

Paul became Northumberland’s first hospital chaplain in 2002.

He is now fully retired but still volunteers three hours a week at the chapel at St George’s Park.

“I must emphasise how grateful I am to have been at St George’s all these years and to be blessed to have the pleasure of getting to know the many patients, staff and volunteers. A big thank you to everyone.”

CNTW’s Voluntary Services team said: “After a remarkable career, we were delighted Paul wanted to continue his NHS journey and chose to become a registered volunteer.

“Paul, along with other volunteers including his wife Maureen, gift their time freely supporting patients, carers, visitors, and staff attending the weekly chapel service. They also help at the ‘REFRESH’ group, which brings people together over a cuppa and sweet treat, where they can relax, reflect and discuss many topics and have a sing-along.

“Although Paul didn’t want a fuss made, we couldn’t let this milestone pass without acknowledging his great achievements and to say a huge thank you for his warmth, friendliness and desire to help people.”

Marian Bell, who works in the Trust’s Chaplaincy, said: “It’s been a pleasure working with Paul over the years, he’s an inspiration.”

Chaplain Diane Armstrong said: “Paul is infamous and well known throughout the Trust with inpatients and the hospital community. He is always a positive light.”