My Experience: Tears, Teamwork and Technology at the Child Development Centre

Lucy Fleetwood

Lucy Fleetwood

My name is Lucy and I started working for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust on Wednesday 5 February 2020. My new job was Paediatric Nurse Specialist at the Child Development Centre (CDC), working within the Neurodevelopmental Team. Six weeks after I started, Covid-19 struck, and I would like to share my experiences of how my fantastic team has supported each other, the children and young people under our care and our colleagues in the wider acute setting during this challenging time.

The first few weeks in my new job were a bit of a whirlwind. The role was completely different to anything I had been used to, but my line manager ensured that I had a comprehensive induction period, which really helped me settle in. At this point, Coronavirus was something distant, happening elsewhere in the world. Watching the headlines, and hearing the terrible stories of isolation and death in China, I remember feeling safe in the knowledge that would never happen in this country, would it?

How bad can it be? It’s just the flu, right?

Fast forward a few weeks later, and the virus had swept through Europe, edging ever closer to our little island. We were sadly learning that no country was immune to Covid-19. Then it happened. The first cases started to infect the UK and the threat became real. The country and the NHS were plunged into uncertainty.

The week lockdown began, panic spread throughout the country and chaos descended upon the CDC. Things were moving fast, advice was changing every day, and we were all feeling apprehensive and anxious. I was still new, and still finding my feet. I was just getting used to life at the Centre, getting to know the people and the processes, when everything changed – and I was terrified.

The face of the CDC

I tried to be as useful as possible. As the days went on, the admin team struggled with the volume of calls they had to make and receive and the extra pressures being placed on them. I decided, as I had no clinics of my own set up at this point, and no clear role within the CDC yet, I would help them out. I set myself up on reception joking that I was now “the face of the CDC”, and quickly learnt how busy and invaluable our amazing admin team is. I checked in the few patients that we were still seeing, greeted staff and visitors, checked temperatures, asked about symptoms, answered phone calls from worried parents and generally tried to stay positive and support the team as best I could.

As things settled down and the weeks went on, I became more confident. I started to develop my own role within the service and begin to build a caseload of children and young people. I discovered that many families were struggling under the harsh but necessary restrictions that lockdown had imposed, and were extremely grateful for help, advice, support and sometimes just someone to talk to. For many of our families, who have children with additional needs, life can be a daily struggle under normal circumstances. Knowing that there was someone at the end of the phone to talk to I think was a great comfort to them and helped contain some of their fears and anxieties.

One Big Team

Despite the uncertainty, our management team worked hard to ensure that the CDC kept running and we supported the Trust as best we could. We set up additional clinics within the Centre to accommodate essential paediatric services. We started running a fast track clinic, a blood clinic and also arranged a process to carry out some safeguarding medicals here at the CDC. The aim was to try and divert children and families from the main hospital site to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. We also hoped that by taking on some of this work, it would enable our colleagues on level 12 to be utilised elsewhere in the hospital, if needed.

Getting to grips with technology

Whilst my experiences of working within the Trust in this trying time have been largely positive, there have been some challenges to overcome. It quickly became apparent that we would have to try as much as possible to use technology to continue to offer services to our children and young people and with this in mind, teams within the CDC began to develop new ways of working. The psychology and therapies departments began utilising “Attend Anywhere,” the continence team worked hard to create a new process of telephone consultations for their families, and multidisciplinary team meetings across other organisations and agencies continued to be attended on virtual platforms. We are now also working on running some of our parenting workshops and support groups virtually, so we can continue to offer support to families with children who have additional needs in a safe way. Here at the CDC we work with some extremely vulnerable children and young people. Being able to continue our work and utilise technology has been vital in protecting these children and supporting families.

Another challenge has been social distancing within the building, which is often extremely difficult or sometimes impossible, despite everyone’s best efforts. Space is undoubtedly an issue here at the CDC. This has meant we have had to have an enormous amount of trust in each other to follow the guidelines and do everything we possibly can to reduce the spread of this virus. Going forward, we are still working on space and staff are having to be ever more flexible in the way that they work. Technology is playing an important role in this, and is something that I believe will continue to be embedded into our practice going forward.

What does the future hold for the CDC?

I feel very honoured to work at the CDC, particularly through this difficult time. I do not envy my colleagues on the frontline, who are dealing with the tragic effects of this terrible virus first hand on a daily basis and I am inspired by their bravery and hard work. For us here at the Centre, the pressures have been very different. We work with extremely vulnerable children and finding ways to ensure that their safety is being maintained, essential therapy is continued, and families are well supported has been challenging.

This is not over. I have no doubt there will be some tough times ahead, but with each day, I feel more able to cope with the uncertainty. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I have struggled with my mental health during this time, and often feel tearful, hopeless and overwhelmed. My colleagues at the CDC have been truly amazing and remained professional and dedicated under incredibly difficult circumstances. Whilst many of us have been unable to see our own families, we’ve done our best to comfort each other, make each other laugh, and help each other through as best we can. I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me and would like to thank my colleagues at the CDC for getting me through this and making a relatively new and inexperienced member of staff feel like part of the team.

  • Lucy Fleetwood is a Paediatric Nurse Specialist at the Child Development Centre (CDC)