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Flexible hours, prayer breaks and goody bags – how hospitals are supporting health workers during Ramadan

Hospital staff praised health chiefs for ‘making life easier’ for those observing Ramadan – the ‘little things’ adding huge value to their experience last month. Thousands of healthcare workers in Birmingham and the Black Country provided frontline services while observing a schedule of fasting and prayer, with a “vital” support network of colleagues, said Frieza Mahmood, head of human resources at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

At Sandwell and city hospitals, staff and patients observing the Islamic holy month also received small bags of spiritual gifts, including tasbeeh prayer beads. Everything is designed to help make the Ramadan experience the best possible, Frieza said.

“There was already a great track record as a trust of embracing faith and ethnicity,” she said. “Our community iftars are legendary, they’ve been going on for years, and that strong track record was one of the reasons I was drawn to working here.

Read more: Muslim runner raises money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital while fasting for Ramadan

“Being in my position now (on the board and the management team) means I can give my senior colleagues the context of some of the realities that staff face, why being able to take breaks when they need them rather than at a proscribed set time is important, for example, and to encourage flexible working hours Staff still perform their duties and are fully engaged,” she added – while the trust understood that there were other important events going on.

“Being a Muslim is an important part of who I am. During Ramadan I can share more of who I am,” Frieza added. Patients and visitors observing Ramadan are also catered for. “We have specific menus and serve food at appropriate times for those who are fasting. The other beautiful thing we do is provide a type of goodie bag to help people get in touch with the spiritual nature of the months, with a sound cube to hear recited prayers and rosaries. We provide access to prayer facilities and special clothing. This means that people can still observe their normal obligations when away from home and that generated great comments.

Frieza Mahmood, Director of Human Resources at Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust

From her personal experience of Ramadan this year, she said the first day was difficult – “it’s tiring and I miss chocolate, I’m a chocolate addict! But I also found that the time spent not not thinking about food or eating meant I was more focused on my work. A lot of people now fast for a healthy lifestyle, so there’s also more acceptance and understanding.

She said Ramadan was a time for her to focus on being a good corporate citizen, being a good employee, a good person, a good neighbor and being kind to others – “that makes people more aware and empathetic. It gives an appreciation of what is important.”

A return to congregational prayer had been a welcome boost this year, including the ability to meet with other fast-observing staff to break bread. Freiza added that there was also increased attention to the hardships many were facing, with the cost of living crisis affecting many local families. “We can break the fast with good food, but some don’t have that luxury.”

She plans to spend Eid at home enjoying her mother’s home cooking. “I moved away about 20 years ago, but I will return home to spend Eid with my family, siblings and eat my mother’s food! It’s still the best.”

Nurse Nurjan Began, Registered Nurse at City Hospital Birmingham
Nurse Nurjan Began, Registered Nurse at City Hospital Birmingham

Nurjan Begen, a registered nurse, and Amaima Gulfraz, a medical assistant, both work in the city hospital’s fast-paced medical assessment unit, which works alongside A&E. But even when they are busy, they say their colleagues make sure they can break their fast or meet prayer time obligations, which must be done at specific times during the holy month.

“The support has been amazing and everyone from management to the matron to everyone on the ward,” Amaima said. Her comments were echoed by Nurjan, who said hospital staff were very supportive, in a way that she knew some employers were not.

Elsewhere, Tahira, a 26-year-old pharmacist from Small Heath, currently works at Tipton and says she has become accustomed to fasting after more than a decade of observance. She says her long day shifts fill most of the day and she’s home in time to break the fast with her family.

Health assistant Amaima Gulfraz, who works in the acute medical unit of the city hospital
Health assistant Amaima Gulfraz, who works in the acute medical unit of the city hospital

“I love when our colleagues ask us about Ramadan and also fast with us. It promotes inclusivity and coming together and it’s nice to see colleagues learning about other religions and cultures. Personally, for To me, Ramadan is all about focusing on your relationship with God and what’s really important.

Nadeem, a pharmacist from Tipton, is currently working in Leicester, supporting a vaccination project. She travels every day and her routine means she doesn’t sleep until midnight, getting up to eat sahour early in the morning. “Not having food and water isn’t a problem, but my sleep patterns are mixed. I can sit up and relax all day, so it’s not a challenge.”

To keep up to date with all the latest news during Ramadan in Birmingham, you can sign up for our Brummie Muslims newsletter. It’s free and delivered straight to your inbox. Register here.

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