In this interview, Kristy McKeon, Clinical Nurse Specialist for children with cancer talks to us about how her role has changed after being redeployed to help the fight against COVID-19 and how difficult it was saying goodbye to the families under her care.
What is your usual role?
My usual role is in Oncology as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) for children with cancer. This means that any children with cancer in the catchment area of Whipps Cross will fall under my care. I had 30 children who were on current treatment and lots more that were in follow up after completing treatment. I also supported Acorn Ward with any admissions of children with cancer. My usual role involved anything from outpatient support, performing chemotherapy and also blood transfusions as well as providing and arranging support for the whole family.
I had to say goodbye to these children and their families in order to take up my new redeployed role in adult services. Luckily my consultant works across Royal London Hospital and Whipps Cross Hospital so we had already started working as a joint multi-disciplinary team with the specialist nurses there. Everyone has pulled together to transition the services over to Royal London and I’m grateful to the team there for making it so easy and ensuring safety for our patients.
Why have you been redeployed and where to?
I’ve been redeployed to the Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) to help with staffing. They are so much busier than usual and have increased the number of beds so need extra hands on deck to help with the increased capacity.
How does the work here differ from your usual role?
A big part of my role as a CNS is performing clinical tasks like chemotherapy and blood tests, but another huge part is also the supportive element. It isn’t usually a very technical role and, as such, Im not qualified to help out with many technical tasks. I can’t work ventilators as you need expert training for this, but I can help in some valuable supportive ways such as administering intravenous (IV) medications, completing patient observations and helping with personal care. I also help the nurses turn the patients when they are on ventilators to maintain comfort and skin integrity. This takes an enormous amount of pressure off of the staff who are under immense strain. An extra pair of hands with the knowledge of how to do a safe IV is invaluable.
Did you have to undergo any training to be redeployed?
I completed non-invasive ventilation training before I was redeployed. This helped me to understand the ventilator setting enabling me to complete patient observations on ITU. I was also provided with a lot of online resources that helped me understand the difference between providing care for children and adults, including medications. The Education Academy has also made sure we have all the resources we need.
My main support network during this, however, has been the nurses I’ve met on the unit. I’ve been buddied up with someone at all times and I’ve been in awe of the amount of knowledge they have and how they’ve managed to support me in supporting them. They’re used to having one patient to one nurse and are now having to take on more patients per nurse, so they have been really thankful to have an extra pair of hands.
How have you felt throughout the process?
At first I felt anxious and I was upset as I didn’t want to say goodbye to my own patients. I made sure I phoned them all to explain the new changes in the process of children’s cancer care. I also don’t have much experience in high intensity nursing but on my first day, my buddy Hayley, made me feel safe and secure. She ensured that I felt confident in what I was doing and that I wasn’t doing anything that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I felt I had been useful, I learnt so much and was relieved that Hayley had felt supported during such a stressful busy shift.
I also usually work 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and I’m now back to doing 12 hour shifts, but it’s rewarding to feel that you’re in the heart of what’s going on and making a difference.
What would your advice be to others who are being redeployed?
Go for it even though you may be anxious. Children’s nurses have so much to offer, we are kind and compassionate and that is something that is so valuable on high intensity wards where others are busy doing technical work. If you aren’t experienced in this, you can always help by being compassionate. We all have a lot to offer so don’t be scared. Everyone is stressed and worried but if you can be a smiling, calm presence, then you can make a difference.