This is a series of personal stories and experiences shared by friends of Renew during this pandemic. Carla Burns is an NHS worker, and she tells us what it's been like supporting those working on the front-lines.
The last few weeks have been very strange.
As news emerged from China about a new respiratory illness, our infectious diseases colleagues began to get twitchy. I work in an NHS trust that has a specialist unit for infectious diseases and we are used to dealing with high-risk illnesses, including monkeypox and other terrible things, so when these specialists say they are worried you know to pay attention.
For years NHS trusts have struggled to prepare for major incidents due to chronic underfunding and shortages of staff. There was little time to ensure systems and processes were in place. Planning for a global pandemic should have always been coordinated and funded from the centre. But, of course, this did not happen.
The focus of my work has been to coordinate the provision of mental health support for staff who will be facing the inevitable horrors over the coming weeks. On top of the huge increase in extremely unwell patients, the NHS will also have to limit the availability of all but immediate life-preserving treatment whilst facing high-levels of staff sickness and self-isolation. The lack of early available testing has placed huge limitations on the planning phase of the pandemic, even before the patient numbers began to increase. On top of this staff are anxious about the conflicting and shifting guidance around Personal Protective Equipment, with NHS guidance currently not reflective of that advocated by the WHO. News of the first deaths of healthcare workers from COVID-19 is hitting them hard.
To attempt to mitigate some of the potential impact on staff, work has been taking place with a team of in-house psychologists whose day job is working with cancer and pain patients. Together with them, we have developed a training programme to upskill as many staff as possible to be able to provide Psychological First Aid to their colleagues, which is a model of mental health support used by the WHO in war and disaster zones. Along with this we have partnered with a local university to provide training in the prevention of PTSD – which we hope will have a positive impact. In addition to this, staff can access counselling and specialist support via a temporary service.
Many support offers have been made available to staff from all places - apps, guidance, advice etc. and we have been attempting to pull them together into a coherent offer so staff are not overwhelmed. Alongside this staff are being provided accommodation if they wish to keep away from their families to reduce the possibility of bringing the virus home. The majority of our staff are female and have caring responsibilities and this is hitting them particularly hard. All we can do now is support the front-line, rotate the staff between the more and less stressful areas and keep them rested and fed/hydrated and with adequate PPS - their physical needs are inextricably linked to their ongoing mental health.
And when this is over we will pick up the pieces as best we can.
The silver lining to this has been to witness teams of people being assembled and addressing tricky and complex issues in new and innovative ways. People working off-site are finding technology to enable this to happen when it was previously believed to be impossible. What cross organisational work with reduced boundaries and a shared common goal can achieve.
All of these things remind me why I work for the NHS - passion, determination and for some, a willingness to pay the ultimate price.
It has been a truly humbling few weeks.
In the second of our series of stories and experiences from this unprecedented period of infection and isolation, Renew member Julie Alexander-Cooper shares how she's been coping with the social and business restrictions imposed upon us all by COVID-19.
Goodness, what a week. I have hardly slept over the last 12 days. Not great for a Sleep, Health and Wellbeing Specialist!!
I am involved in the running of two businesses, and during the last two weeks we have been busy focusing on adapting quickly to stay afloat and move forward. I had begun replacing my old website with a new, more modern-looking offering, and this was already taking up much time. So, when the announcement occurred last Monday, the businesses had to evolve quickly, fortunately in similar ways.
With regards to the Sleep, Health and Wellbeing Clinic, all private consultations and group programmes went online. This change might sound simple, however, it wasn’t. Extra to the usual consultation times, each client was allocated a session time to learn how to use and access the platform, to iron out any glitches. Much time was spent on assisting those less computer/tech savvy to become confident about what to do.
The second business, construction, involved an equal number of complexities. It was unclear whether or not construction would continue or cease during this time of social distancing and lockdown. As with the Sleep, Health and Wellbeing Clinic, the face-to-face meetings shifted online. However, everyone had a different “favoured” platform, so this involved a steep learning curve for all. As construction workers are now on the key worker category, much work is anticipated. Consideration of the health and safety of staff being key, each area of operation has been analysed to find the best practice to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Sleepless nights were understandable.
There may have been stresses, however, there was much laughter too.
The interesting experience of online communication, visits from the family dog or child. The family domestic happening in the background of my Zoom meeting, heard by all because I forgot to press the mute button! With our limited downtime we have exercised, practiced yoga and painted the garden fence — all very positive. We socialised online with our friends and joined the Virtual Pub Quiz too. I also became a volunteer for Kenilworth COVID-19, a local initiative set up to help and support residents in isolation. I delivered lots of leaflets for the community venture too, trickier than I expected, as there are some scary dogs! On Mothering Sunday, we FaceTimed our sons, who live in London. We chatted, laughed, drank wine and played online games, not too different from “normal times”. As we go forward we do not know how much longer this will continue or what will happen.
I wish everyone all the very best of health in this difficult time!