The British Empire Medal has been conferred on a Lancashire Doctor and Priest in Her Majesty The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
The Rev. Dr Susan Salt, a curate of the Fellside Team Ministry in rural Lancashire, has been recognised after returning to the frontline at Blackpool Teaching Hospital during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Susan worked for nearly three months in the chaplaincy focusing much of her time on supporting the Intensive Care Unit, supporting and ministering to patients and fellow clinicians, after receiving a plea to return from the NHS.
At the time of her return to the medical frontline she was also a member of the Blackburn Diocese Coronavirus Task Group, chaired by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev Philip North, which is managing the Diocesan response to coronavirus. Susan continues to support the group to this day as the pandemic continues.
Bishop Philip offered congratulations today alongside the Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn. Susan had spent more than 30 years as a physician before becoming a Deacon and then a Priest in Blackburn Diocese in 2019/2020.
She made the decision to rejoin the team at Blackpool Teaching Hospital (where she had previously, and very recently, worked as a Palliative Medicine consultant) with the aim of treating victims of the virus and supporting the staff working under very difficult conditions in the first stages of the pandemic.
Leaving her parish work in the Fellside parishes team in Lancashire, she nevertheless managed to continue writing her popular ‘View From The Study’ reflection, which was regularly posted on the Fellside Team website while also assisting with online services for the parishes.
News about the honour came on November 26, although had to be kept quiet until now! Susan said: “It was a double pleasure as I heard on the same day as my daughter’s 22nd birthday.”
Explaining what her role (from April 2020) at the Hospital involved Susan said: “I helped with the clinical work of tending to very seriously ill patients and ended up supporting the hospital chaplaincy and the ICU staff by acting as a sounding board for their anxieties and issues in that terribly difficult time.
“When the email came from the General Medical Council asking for former doctors to go back in and help, I thought and prayed long and hard. There was a nagging voice saying ‘you could and you should…’.
“I felt I could not leave my former colleagues and the brave staff of the hospital struggling to cope with what was a dreadful and challenging situation. So, I asked my parish Priest, Rev. Stephen Cooper and Bishop Philip to support my decision to go back, which they did straightaway.”
To protect her family and friends Susan went to live in hospital accommodation for the duration of her work in Blackpool. Whilst there, she was instrumental in setting up a bereavement support service for the hospital trust, putting together a series of bereavement support boxes for staff in all wards looking after the desperately ill, and providing mobile phones for all wards in the hospital. This helped staff to support victims’ families as more patients died from Covid at the height of the first wave.
Susan explained: “I was able to combine my work as a priest with my work at the hospital, giving support and counselling to bereaved relatives on the telephone. It was dreadful - so many deeply upset and traumatised family members unable to be there in person as their loved ones passed away.”
Gradually Susan helped to re-establish a rhythm and a coping structure for the chaplaincy and her clinical colleagues at the hospital and, as the numbers of severely ill and dying began to go down in June 2020, she left Blackpool and returned to her parish to continue ministering to members of the church family there.
Since then, Susan has had a number of requests to talk to groups about the impact of and coping with Covid, including groups from the hospital trust and the Lancashire Interfaith Forum FACE. Meanwhile, her work with colleagues on the Diocesan Coronavirus Task Group has also continued up to the present day.
Reflecting on the pandemic, Susan said: “It has forced us all, whoever we are, to pause in different ways, to consider how we do things differently and look after one another differently. We have had to make choices as individuals, professionals and as churches that we otherwise would have never considered. It has been so stressful for so many.
“We have had to think long and hard about what is important to us, and the pandemic has brought into sharp focus just how much we depend on one another in our daily lives.
“For me, I have been so moved by the willingness of people, in many cases complete strangers, to work together for the common good. We have re-deployed and reconfigured our Christian ministry through the body of the church, and I think we now recognise just how much we depend on one another.
“My faith tells me that there is a hope and a certainty beyond all of the horrors and stresses of the last two years, and I am very conscious of being affirmed in my vocation as a priest during this time.
“The way the church in Lancashire has responded to the crisis has also been so impressive: we have not been used to dealing with risk on such a scale, but we have coped so well by responding to that key commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
Bishop Julian said today: “I congratulate Susan on her British Empire Medal which is hugely well deserved. There are some commonalities in the roles of a parish priest and a medic as they both provide opportunities to care for people no matter what their circumstances.
“Susan’s background in palliative care also gave her unique insights and abilities that were clearly invaluable to the Blackpool Teaching Hospital and it is particularly noteworthy that she was able to set up the bereavement support service which was much needed. I can think of no better person to have done this.”
Bishop Philip added: “I am delighted Susan has been singled out for this honour. She courageously returned to the NHS last year in its hour of greatest need and has also made an exceptional contribution to our Task Group through a combination of her expert medical background and her understanding of parish life.
“At the same time, she has continued to support her own parish in navigating a way through the pandemic, in common with so many of our wonderful clergy across Lancashire.
“At the time, when Susan made her decision to help her former colleagues, I commented on how I enormously admired her obedience to God’s call. Her reflections on her time on the frontline in a series of pieces for our regular Task Group briefings after she returned were vital reads for us all in the Diocese: engaging and compelling while pulling no punches.”
Ronnie Semley, December 30, 2021