Quality and Improvement Manager Viral Ballachanda has come a long way since she first joined HUC in 2012. This year, she even won our Outstanding Achievement Staff Award. One of our HUC Heroes, she tells us about her impressive career progression in the organisation.

Viral Ballachanda did not start her working life thinking she would end up in healthcare and be closely linked with the rising importance of NHS 111. A trained interior designer, Viral started out at IKEA working instore on public designing layouts for kitchens and creating concepts. She also worked internationally as Ikea expanded, with Dublin being one of her favourite cities. Eight years ago, after she had her second child, Viral was looking for a way back into work that would suit her and her family’s needs. That is why she applied for a role at HUC and started working in our then only recently established NHS 111 call centre.

“My husband would take care of the kids while I was at work and I took over when he was away, so this required a bit of planning, but it all worked out well. As my children grew, with more time in hand, my responsibilities within HUC also expanded,” says Viral.

In fact, Viral has seen NHS 111 grow from its very beginnings both locally and nationally to the successful non-emergency number it is today. And she been instrumental in the development and launch of a number of new schemes for NHS 111, including the 111 First strategy most recently. This is a national campaign designed to help keep urgent NHS services safe by enabling NHS 111 to book appointments at A&E for those who really need them and managing patient flow at busy Emergency Departments.

A ‘once shy, now confident’ Viral has represented HUC on calls both on a local and national level and is now well known to our commissioners as a problem solver, and the “go to” person when any of her colleagues are struggling. What a career journey for someone who only wanted to work a few hours a week while raising her young family!

Work – Then and Now

“When I joined, 111 was quite a new service and people were still in the habit of calling their GP. Obviously, there’s been a huge amount of marketing and it has become a national known number. It is the awareness of the service that it’s become people’s go to number. Secondly, as an organisation HUC has grown massively – we cover most of East England now,” she explains.

From 111 Call Handler – or ‘Health Advisor’ – to Auditor to Quality and Improvement Manager – is there a memory that stands out to her from her time at HUC? “For me working here is about the people you do it with. I have so many special connections and friendships – strong bonds and loads of little memories, which extend outside of work,” she says without a second thought. “The pandemic was also such a challenging time for all of us. I think having a strong support system around you got us through.”

“The best part of this organisation is that we are all here for each other. We care for one another as we do for our patients and we understand what another person might be going through. So, when someone is having a challenging time, we check on how they are doing – whether there is something troubling at home, in the family, or just personally or if it is work related. So, the bond here is very different.”

Resilience is key

Having said that, you need to be quite resilient working for NHS 111. There is some stuff that will affect you or hit a personal note. When you are on the phone, it can be difficult to hear the symptoms and not relate back to one’s own personal experience. So, one must strike a balance personally and professionally and look at the call as an individual,” she points out.

“You’ve got to be aware of your own mental health – understand personal triggers and pitfalls. There was a lady at my training – who did very well in the tests but once she started, it was hard for her to find that balance. She took everything home, and the level of double checking whether the person she spoke to was alright or how different situations would have panned out. She had to leave because she could not handle it.”

Joining HUC – the best decision ever

Joining HUC and working as part of the NHS family was the best decision ever for Viral. “I love the fact that there is so much scope for career progression. I’ve got a reputation for applying for everything – I’m a person who needs to push boundaries and take on new challenges, with a passion to making change. It is scary and exciting at the pace HUC is growing. But I love it.”

“The pandemic has taught us many things – and as a HUC family we have come together. We have been there for each other– supportive, caring and compassionate and that’s how it should be,” she signs off.