Nurses who had been redeployed at Barts Health during the peak of the pandemic have reflected on what they’ve learned during an unprecedented period for the nursing profession and how the legacy of Covid-19 will shape their practice.
Whilst redeployment helped with demand on the frontline during the peak of the pandemic, it was also an opportunity for nurses to learn new skills, develop in other specialist areas and share their expertise with colleagues.
The necessary training and resources were provided to help nurses carry out their newly assigned roles safely so they could continue to provide the highest quality of care for patients.
Emily Huntingford was a staff nurse from the coronary care unit at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and is now an ITU staff nurse.
She said: “Being redeployed to nurse-intubated patients was a formidable challenge. I had to quickly get to grips with a whole new set of clinical skills such as keeping infusions running, understanding minute volumes, and dealing with the stress of proning my patient with a team of physiotherapists.
“It was unusual for me to not know at least some basic facts about my patients; I didn’t know where they lived, what they did for work or, most importantly, who were they precious to. I realised that whilst caring for intubated patients, I had lost that personal interaction that I enjoy so much as a nurse.
“I reflect on those times now the hospital is returning to some form of normality. I am thankful that I am able to communicate with families as they value even the smallest of updates on their loved one. I also appreciate these phone calls personally as they are able to give me basic, but valuable, details about the person I am nursing.
“The pandemic has reinforced to me the importance of the support network around the patient, and I will truly hold onto this for the rest of my nursing career.”
Zara Zaman, general surgery nurse on East Ham Ward at Newham Hospital, was preparing her work bag in the evening, when she was told that she had been redeployed to ITU. She was asked to report to ICU at 7:30am the next day where she met her new matron.
Zara said: “My first day reminds me how I felt as a first-year student going into placement.
“I was entering a new environment, with a new team and a new speciality. I was so anxious to see patients who were affected by Covid-19, but didn’t have time to really process my thoughts.
“When I began working in the unit, I was surrounded by beeping machines, intubated patients and of course all of the staff members were in full PPE, which meant I couldn’t see or recognise anyone. There were a lot of changes I had to quickly adapt to, and it felt very overwhelming.
“The ward manager for ITU was wonderful and understood the nerves I felt. On my first day, I was immediately paired up with two ITU nurses who were excellent teachers and keen to orientate me to the new environment. Every shift following on, I have always worked with an ITU nurse and have built positive working relations with the team.
"A really special initiative launched in our unit was wearing photo ID badges on our PPE equipment. All NHS workers working in PPE were encouraged to wear a photo ID so patients could see who is caring for them. I remember on my first day on ITU feeling so alienated because I couldn't see the faces of the nurses or doctors I was working with.”
Christian Villa, a dental nurse at The Royal London Hospital, was redeployed to adult critical care (ACCU). Christian was previously a teacher before changing career to work in dentistry.
Christian said: “On one hand I was excited to be learning new skills and being able to help out during the pandemic. On the other hand, I was nervous of what was to come and the new challenges I was about to face.
“I felt fulfilled knowing that I’ve been able to help out during one of the most difficult periods of our time. It was a massive U-turn being in a completely new and different environment.
“Working in ACCU, I have learnt so much and have also overcome many difficult moments. I have never been alone, and I have always been supported by my colleagues.
“Even when I wasn’t sure about something, I felt reassured by them as they were always there to answer my questions and concerns.
“My advice on redeployment during the pandemic is to have an open mind. You’ll be helping people and you’ll be learning and growing at the same time.”
Kristy McKeon, clinical nurse specialist for children with cancer on Acorn Ward at Whipps Cross Hospital, was redeployed to ITU to help the fight against Covid-19.
Kristy said: “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 The Royal London Hospital and Whipps Cross Hospital so we had already started working as a joint multi-disciplinary team with the specialist nurses there.
“On ITU, I administered intravenous (IV) medications, completing patient observations and helping with personal care. I also helped the nurses turn the patients when they are on ventilators to maintain comfort and skin integrity. This takes an enormous amount of pressure off the staff who are under immense strain.
“An extra pair of hands with the knowledge of how to do a safe IV is invaluable.
“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.
“Everyone is stressed and worried but if you can be a smiling, calm presence, then you can make a difference.
“I am a more confident nurse after this. I am quite specialised in children’s oncology – I have only ever worked in this area since qualifying 8 years ago – and never imagined I could manage in an ITU environment. It provided me with an insight into areas of care I had never experienced before.”