Nurses redeployed to Critical Care at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic say they feel exhausted but proud after facing the greatest challenge of their careers.
Kenye Karemo, Director of Workforce Development, Policy and Strategy (pictured left), was responsible for designing a multiprofessional training programme to equip nurses, doctors and allied health professionals with essential knowledge and skills prior to redeployment. Kenye writes below about the experiences of some of the staff who were redeployed during this exceptionally challenging time:
Dozens of nurses, from newly-qualified staff nurses to specialist practitioners, were redeployed to strengthen our Critical Care team as unprecedented numbers of critically ill patients began to be admitted.
For newly-qualified nurse, Katie Spillane, who was working on Heather ward at King George Hospital when she was redeployed to Critical Care, the experience has been truly life-changing.
Katie, aged 24, who completed her nurse training in her home country of Ireland last September, admits that her first few shifts left her feeling completely overwhelmed but slowly became more confident: “As time went on, it definitely started to feel different. I did a lot of learning on the job and a lot of reading and research at home so I could go in and help the ITU nurses better.”
“The Critical Care team were unbelievable, so helpful and obliging even though they were under so much pressure themselves.”
She says: “I have increased my skills tenfold and more. I know how to do things I never thought I would be able to do and it’s amazing to me that I am able to do those things. The learning for me has been fantastic.
Katie says that she was always determined to turn a hugely challenging period into a positive learning experience.
“When I was redeployed to ITU, I was very much of the mindset that I wasn’t going to let myself get down in the dumps, I was really going to pull the positives. I think that really shifted my focus and made it feel like a great experience.
“I would never have thought I could work in ITU and now I love it.
“I’ve applied for a transfer to ITU! What I really felt deep down was that I was being given a good opportunity and I should grab it with both hands.”
Therese Pia Aquino Noceda, Heart Failure Nurse Specialist, also spoke about how helpful and reassuring the training programme was: “The focus was on things that we really needed to know, which was quite comforting because if you have more knowledge, you feel better able to cope.
“It was also really good to get together with other people who were also being redeployed so we didn’t feel so isolated.”
Therese had previously worked as an ITU sister, and had to draw on all her experience to cope with the unprecedented challenge facing the Critical Care team. She admits her first few shifts were utterly exhausting: “One day I was doing a lot of heart failure work and the next I had an ITU patient to look after, so that was quite tough. It was so busy, everyone was just trying to do their best and get on with it. The ITU staff were phenomenal.” she recalls.
“And although I had worked in Critical Care before, it was so challenging and things had changed a lot.”
Therese adds: “I am pleased in many ways I was redeployed. I feel I learned a lot and I’m happy about that.”
Stella Osei, who usually works as Lead Special Screening Practitioner for the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, has worked at our Trust for more than two decades and was redeployed to Critical Care at King George Hospital.
She says: “When everything started happening and they wanted people to go and work in Critical Care, I was keen to volunteer. It was clear that our service was going to be paused and I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing because I knew we were going to be needed.
“Because of my background and the fact I have never worked on a ward, I was definitely nervous. However, I am the sort of person who will always put themselves up front to help and I wanted to do what I could.
“It was very challenging but I feel proud that I will be able to say in the future that when Covid-19 happened, I was there and I did something to help. I cared for patients who were very sick and who I later saw sitting up and talking.
“That makes me feel proud and I know my family are proud I was there too.”
And Everles Banda’s family have no doubts about her contribution to the NHS at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic either.
Her brother has one word for it.
“He says ‘You are my hero!’” she laughs.
“My husband has been very supportive too and my family say I have given 110 per cent. They are very proud of me.”
Everles has only worked for our Trust since September and took up a new post as a Band 5 staff nurse in Gynaecology Outpatients at the start of this year.
After being informed the Gynaecology Outpatient service Gynaecology Outpatients was going to be paused as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, she saw an email about our Critical Care Skills Training Programme. She said: “It sounded helpful so I asked my manager if I could go on it. That’s really how I came to be deployed to Critical Care.
“Having been out of acute care for some time, the course brought back some of my previous knowledge. It opened my eyes to what I was letting myself in for and at the same time, it allayed a lot of my fears.”
Everles was redeployed to Critical Care at Queen’s Hospital at the height of the pandemic.
She recalls: “The first few shifts were really very busy. Every time I got the chance to sit down, I would reflect on what was happening and I would say to the ITU trained staff ‘I take my hat off to you guys’.
“It was certainly challenging but I have done a lot of things I hadn’t done before, or I hadn’t done for a long time, and it was really good learning. I feel I coped well with the experience by focussing on the job rather than anything else.
“There was also a very good team spirit in Critical Care – it’s one of the best teams I have ever worked with.
“I feel proud of what I have done and the fact I helped and I was there. When I was needed, I was one of the frontline.”
Sister Laura Long was one of 70 members of the King George Theatres team who were redeployed to Critical Care.
Deputy Theatres Matron, Guru Kholgade, says: “Theatre staff have gone above and beyond to be a good helping hand to the Critical Care nurses.
“This has been a very stressful and challenging time for all of us, like other departments. All our staff are so proud of themselves for their contribution.”
Laura admits she felt anxious when she was initially told her team was being redeployed.
She says: “One minute I was in scrubs and the next minute, the ship had turned.
“It was a very challenging and emotional time.
“But my attitude from day one was that I just had to do my best and get on with it.”
Laura says the support of her family, including her grown up son, has helped her to carry her through an exceptionally challenging period.
She adds: “I also feel proud of myself for what I have done. At the end of the day, I went there, saw it for myself and did my very best for the patients. That’s something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life.”
Nurse Endoscopist, Israel Omojola, says he has two abiding memories of his redeployment to Critical Care at King George Hospital.
The first is the enormity of the challenge which faced everyone caring for those patients most severely affected by the virus.
And the second is the incredible way the whole Critical Care team went above and beyond to meet that challenge head on.
He says: “If there’s one thing that kept me going, it was the ITU staff that were so sympathetic to support us. They would say ‘If you need anything, tell me’, even though they were under considerable pressure themselves.
“Everyone was working as a team and there was a good team spirit.
“At the end of each shift, the people I had worked with would say ‘You did very well, you managed the situation’. And that made me feel happy.”
Divisional Director of Nursing, Michele Elliott, says: “For me what was demonstrated through Covid-19 is that 100 per cent of our staff just wanted to help.
“Everyone was up for doing what they had to do and everyone really supported each other – we pulled together as an organisation and as a team.
“The only people who can truly understand what it felt like to live through such an exceptional period are each and every member of that team, and this is something we will share going forward.”
Ruth Dando, Lead Nurse for Critical Care Services, says the teamwork shown under truly exceptional circumstances was second to none.
“It got incredibly busy very quickly in Critical Care and the patients were much sicker than we anticipated,” she recalls.
“It was just so challenging both for the critical care nurses who were working under intense pressure, and the nurses who had been redeployed into such a different environment and were facing a very steep learning curve. I was really focussed on trying to support and reassure them but it was a huge ask.
“Everyone really stepped up and did their best through some really tough times, and I am enormously proud of the whole team.”