Lisa has worked as a nurse at University Hospitals Plymouth for over 25 years. Due to a medical condition she has been shielding at home since lockdown began. She has been keeping a video diary of her experiences – both professional and personal.
In the short video below, Lisa explains some of the hard realities of shielding, from the boredom and isolation to the fear of eventually having to leave the house – and the risks that entails.
In this longer video, Lisa shares some of her wider experiences of shielding at home and how it has affected her professionally going from working on wards before lockdown to now running clinics through computer screens. She talks about some of her frustrations and missing her patients and colleagues, but also how she has embraced technology to make the best of things.
Ibreez and her husband, Ibrahim, are junior doctors training in internal medicine at University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) NHS Trust. They are just two of the many international staff working here.
Ibreez grew up on Galveston Island in Texas, but went on to do her medical training in Bangladesh where she met Ibrahim. After a year spent in Yorkshire, they chose Plymouth, partly because of the rotations offered by UHP and partly for the beaches, which Ibreez missed after a childhood spent living on the coast.
They have loved being part of the inclusive atmosphere of the Trust and feel they have really been made to feel part of the #1BigTeam. They have also embraced Plymouth life, from valiantly attempting to cycle the many, many hills, to enjoying the view of the Hoe after a long night shift.
As for many people, the last few months have been tough for the pair, both professionally and personally. The doctors were already on a rotation in ICU when COVID-19 reached the UK and they have remained there. “I was just hoping my contribution would help,” said Ibreez when talking about the pandemic. Unable to return to the USA for a visit, Ibreez has been in regular touch with her family, including trading stories with her sister who is a doctor in Detroit: “Being able to talk to my sister about my experiences has been an important way to stay sane.”
The couple are celebrating their first wedding anniversary this summer, and had hoped to travel around the States for their belated honeymoon. Their once-in-a-lifetime trip was supposed to have ended with them spending the end of Ramadan with Ibreez’s family in Texas, but COVID travel restrictions meant they had to postpone their plans. Ibreez is very level-headed about the situation: “You can’t plan for this sort of thing. You have to remember that you’re not the only person in this and life will restart.”
Alongside their duties as doctors, they also run a website for other medics who want to train and work in the UK – roadtouk.com. Their advice for anyone thinking about working in UK hospitals in the future is to remember that there is always someone you can ask for help: “Don’t worry about asking for help, just find your support group and remember to pay it forward.”
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)
My name is Syeda and I’m a Staff Nurse on Stonehouse Ward. Between 23 April and 23 May I fasted for Ramadan. My experience of working for the NHS whilst fasting went really well and I must admit I didn’t really meet many challenges. I worked on the ward in the daytime during Eid, but then I was able to spend the rest of the day at home with my family. Usually I would visit my aunts and uncles and cousins, but this year I had to facetime them to wish them ‘Eid Mubarak’.
My family has been very supportive whilst I work at the hospital by being there for me and praying for me. My manager and my colleagues have always been supportive by boosting morale on the ward and making sure we have access to any extra support if needed.
There has been some anxiety with regards to COVID19, but I feel very lucky whilst working on the surgical floor because there are plans to protect both staff and patients from COVID. Also, receiving constant reassurance from the Trust and receiving daily updates about COVID has been very helpful.
Supporting patients during COVID
I can definitely sympathise with my patients because of the restrictions to visiting, I can imagine it has made them feel lonely in the hospital setting. So it is so important to support your patients as much as you can and I know there have been new initiatives brought in to the Trust like sending cards to patients. Also, sending thank you cards to staff members to support them has been a great initiative.
At first I felt anxious and a little bit nervous (like my colleagues) about the changes in the Trust such as certain departments having to temporarily close, move or combine with other departments. I have made sure to keep myself up-to-date with the COVID policies and of course with the new specialisms and staff members that joined our ward.
Feeling appreciated and the ‘new normal’ after COVID
Myself and my colleagues have really appreciated the Thursday night Clap for Carers, I even find it quite emotional because of the immense love that people are showing for us.
Stay safe and strong everyone. This hardship will pass and we will become stronger as a society and I hope we will all care for each other.
I hope that everyone learns from this and we don’t take the small things for granted.