It’s time to meet the unsung heroes hoping to be crowned winners in the Swindon and Wiltshire Health & Care Awards 2021.

As we wait with bated breath for the winners to be announced on May 27, each week in the lead-up to our virtual awards ceremony we’ll shine a light on the finalists vying for the top spot in four different categories - starting today with the Care Hero Award, Adolescent & Childcare Award, Mental Health Award and Volunteer of the Year Award.

From frontline workers and nurses to mental health professionals and community stalwarts, scores of locals who showed themselves to be exceptional in the midst of the Covid crisis were put forward for the Care Hero Award.

A true inspiration, Dr Catherine Strait, clinical lead in Acute Medicine, was nominated for the award for the crucial part she played in spearheading the Great Western Hospital’s Covid response and her unflagging commitment to keeping both patients and staff safe throughout the pandemic.

Fellow finalist Maxine Buyanga too showed incredible courage and resilience taking on increased responsibilities from the outset of the Covid outbreak. The deputy divisional director of nursing for surgery, women and children division juggled her role as matron for the ICU, creating training videos and holding virtual sessions to support emergency teams and keep staff up to date on the latest coronavirus developments. She was nominated by Kate Myrie, communications and engagement officer at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who said: “She has been an incredible leader throughout the last few months, supporting and encouraging her team who have been working long and tiring hours looking after very sick patients on ICU.”

Completing the Top 3 is Dr Anthony Kerry, a consultant respiratory physician at the Great Western Hospital whose work on the RECOVERY clinical trial, which seeks to understand potential treatment options for Covid-19, including drugs previously used for HIV and malaria, has proved invaluable.

Dr Sarah Bates, a paediatric and neonatal consultant who has been instrumental in rolling out a number of new initiatives and caring for poorly babies across the Neonatal Unit and Children’s Ward at the Great Western Hospital during the pandemic is the running for the Adolescent & Childcare Award alongside charity Swindon Ten to Eighteen Project, which offered virtual support and workshops to the most vulnerable throughout the pandemic, and the Family Nurse Partnership, an invaluable service for young parents across Swindon.

IPSUM director, Julie Mattinson, who not only kept the Swindon charity’s counselling service up and running during lockdown by shifting operations online but offered sessions to growing numbers of new clients is one of the worthy finalists in the Mental Health category. Also in the running for the Mental Health Award are parish councillor and community campaigner Curtis Flux, who has delivered more than 500 food parcels and 400 prescriptions to elderly people and struggling families over the past 12 months and the extraordinary team behind the CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services), who redoubled their efforts to reach out to young people in need and offer additional support during the pandemic.

Nick Hewens, a determined farmer who scoured the country, driving upwards of 3,500 miles, to pick up vital protective equipment for Prospect Hospice at the height of the PPE shortage is one of the three hopefuls in the Volunteer of the Year category.

He said: “I feel very humble to be included within the finalists, as what I do requires little skill, or sacrifice, and so I very much hope that someone more 'frontline' and hands on within the care/hospital/hospice sector ends up getting this recognition.”

He’ll be vying for the crown against Georgie Wood, one of the very first people to volunteer as a carpark marshal and patient coordinator at STEAM’s Covid vaccination clinic and The Harbour Project, whose dedicated volunteers moved heaven and earth to support asylum seekers in the aftermath of the Covid crisis, delivering food parcels and wi-fi dongles and running virtual English and maths lessons.

Next week, meet the finalists in the Good Nurse, Healthcare Employer, Domiciliary Care and Dementia Carer categories.