A pre-assessment nurse who was redeployed to a mortuary during the Covid-19 peak has told of her experience and how she became the go-to for families who were unable to visit their deceased loved ones.
Jo Groom, (pictured above), a pre-assessment nurse of 20 years at Central Middlesex Hospital, has shared her experiences with Nursing Times of being redeployed to Ealing mortuary during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just wanted to do something to be active and help”
Across the country, many nurses like Ms Groom were moved to different settings or fields in response to the demands caused by the coronavirus, especially for critical care.
When Covid-19 first hit and surgeries were paused, she explained that her usual role became almost “irrelevant”.
It had been three years since she had last actively worked on a surgical ward, so Ms Groom said she “did not have the skill set” to work in intensive or critical care. She was, therefore, asked to go and work at the mortuary.
She began in her new temporary role on 19 March and finished officially on 5 June. “At the time, I just wanted to do something to be active and help,” she told Nursing Times.
Ms Groom noted that she “felt a bit let down” by herself, because she was unable to work in intensive care but added that, in hindsight, she was glad this had been the case.
Before the coronavirus pandemic when a patient died, Ms Groom explained that “you would do what you can to make them comfortable, wash them, clean them [and] liaise with the family”.
“But in Covid you couldn’t do that,” she said. “The patients were moved from the wards quite quickly down to the mortuary.”
“I actually got to give the nice part of nursing care but in a mortuary rather than the ward”
When taken to the mortuary, Ms Groom and her team would ensure the bodies had the correct identifying features, such as wrist bands and hospital numbers.
Then she would “make sure they were clean, comfortable and presentable and then make sure everything was filed officially, and with all the correct documentation”.
“So, I actually got to give the nice part of nursing care but in a mortuary rather than the ward,” said Ms Groom.
A large part of her role at the mortuary was to speak and liaise with relatives on the phone, because restrictions implemented as a result of Covid-19 meant they could not visit the bodies.
“Normally, they would come down and there is a viewing room and they could see their deceased relative, but they couldn’t do that because of Covid, so you were trying to sort of act as the middleman,” she said.
“If they wanted to bring letters or photos or blankets or anything for their loved ones, they would meet me, because they couldn’t come into the mortuary… and then I would assure them that it was placed with the body.”
She added: “What I found really nice was, even though the families they had lost someone…, they were phoning afterwards to say how the funeral service went or ‘thank you very much for everything you have done’.
“There is a lot more gratitude and respect in that part of life, much more than you realise when you’re looking after a patient on the ward,” she said.
There was one patient’s husband in particular who stood out for Ms Groom during her time at the mortuary and who she felt glad to be able to support during such a difficult time.
He would phone Ms Groom frequently “because he just needed someone to talk to and tell them how it went”.
She said it “became like a daily ritual”, but that she did not mind and, in fact, that she looked forward to it, because she knew she was “making a difference”.
Ealing mortuary is one of three run by the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust. It saw a surge in the number of cases it was handling at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the trust, the peak of the first wave in Ealing was 6 April to 19 April when it saw eight or nine cases a day, compared to pre-Covid-19 when numbers averaged at two to three.
Overall, between March and June, more than 600 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded across the trust.
In May, it said there was a significant tail off in the number of deaths per day, which was linked to a reduction in admissions of patients with Covid-19.
Ms Groom added that the mortuary had “a lot more” Covid-19 patients than compared to the number of expected deaths, such as from the hospice attached to the site.
In her transition to the mortuary, Ms Groom said she was well-supported by both her team in pre-assessment and those she temporarily worked with.
When asked if she would be happy to return to the mortuary, if needed, she said that she already had to help support the team with cover when a member of staff went on annual leave.
“And, if we do have a second spell, I am quite happy to go back there again,” she told Nursing Times.