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Nurses redeployed to critical care in East London at the height of the Covid-19 crisis say they feel exhausted but proud after facing their greatest challenge of their careers.
Dozens of nurses, from newly-qualified staff nurses to specialist practitioners, were redeployed by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust to strengthen its critical care teams, as unprecedented numbers of critically ill patients began to be admitted.
“It got incredibly busy very quickly in critical care and the patients were much sicker than we anticipated”
Ruth Dando, lead nurse for critical care services at the trust, said 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 noted.
“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 focused 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,” she said.
Stella Osei, who usually works as lead special screening practitioner for the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, was redeployed to critical care at King George Hospital in Goodmayes.
She said: “It was clear that our service was going to be shut down 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,” she said.
A band 7 heart failure nurse specialist, Therese Pia Aquino Noceda, said she had to draw on all her previous experience as an intensive care sister to cope with the unprecedented challenge facing critical care teams at King George Hospital.
She said she also found the trust’s newly-developed Rapid Critical Care Skills Training Programme very helpful and reassuring.
“I feel proud I will be able to say in the future that when Covid-19 happened, I was there and I did something to help”
The programme was designed to equip nurses and allied health professionals with essential knowledge and skills prior to redeployment, and was delivered by multi-professional educators, clinicians and support teams.
She said: “The focus was on things that we really needed to know, which was quite comforting at the time because if you have more knowledge, you feel better able to cope.”
She admitted 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.”
“And although I had done ITU before, this one was so challenging. It was so busy, everyone was just trying to do their best and get on with it. The ITU staff were phenomenal.”
She added: “For me, having worked in ITU before, it was still hard and very tiring but at the same time, I was happy to be there and to be doing the work that was needed.”
Everles Banda took up a new post as a band 5 staff nurse in gynaecology outpatients at the start of this year and was redeployed to critical care at Queen’s Hospital in Romford at the height of the pandemic.
She said: “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.
“It’s also one of the best teams I have ever worked with,” she said. “I feel proud of what I have done and the fact that when I was needed, I was one of the front line.”
Sister Laura Long was one of 70 members of the King George theatres team who were redeployed to critical care.
Ms Long admitted that she felt anxious when she was initially told her team was being redeployed.
She said: “One minute I was in scrubs and the next minute, the ship had turned. It was a very challenging and emotional time.
“I 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.”
Meanwhile, nurse endoscopist Israel Omojola said he had two abiding memories of his redeployment to critical care at King George Hospital.
The first was the enormity of the challenge which faced everyone caring for those patients most severely affected by the virus.
“For, me what was demonstrated through Covid-19 is that 100% of our staff just wanted to help”
And the second was the incredible way the whole critical care team went above and beyond to meet that challenge head on.
He said: “If there’s one thing that kept me going, it was the ITU staff that were so sympathetic to support us. Everyone was working as a team and there was a very good team spirit.”
For newly-qualified nurse, Katie Spillane, who was working on Heather ward at King George Hospital when she was redeployed, the experience has been truly life-changing.
Ms Spillane, who completed her nurse training in Ireland last September, said: “The critical care staff were unbelievable, they were just so helpful and obliging even though they were under so much pressure themselves.
“I have increased my skills tenfold and more. I would never have thought I could do ITU and now I love it,” she said.
“I have actually 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.”
Michele Elliott, divisional director of nursing at the trust, said: “For, me what was demonstrated through Covid-19 is that 100% of our staff just wanted to help.
“Everyone was up for doing what they had to do, and everyone really supported each other and pulled together as an organisation and as a team,” she said.
She added: “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.”