How the COVID pandemic has impacted the nursing profession

It’s been a tough year for everyone, but no more so than for nurses who are on the frontline when it comes to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Acosia Nyanin, chief nursing officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: “This has been a hard and challenging year for many people and none more so than for NHS staff and in particular NHS staff working on the frontline at the point of care delivery.”

The Royal College of Nursing has heard how nurses have been moved to different departments to support colleagues to nurses working from home to protect themselves.

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This has meant that nurses have had to change the way in which they work to deal with the increase in people in the hospital and looking after patients who have coronavirus.

Nurses at St Barnabas

Acosia said: “Our staff work across clinical and support services and they have been incredible. Staff working in our hospital services have continued to look after people who need specialist mental health and learning disability care within a hospital setting. They have adapted the way they work in a number of ways to ensure patients, staff and visitors are kept COVID safe and secure. From wearing Personal Protective Equipment to holding meetings remotely. From implementing infection prevention and control guidelines to helping patients to stay in touch with their friends and families.

“Our community teams have continued to visit vulnerable people at home with mental health needs and learning disabilities, or provided telephone and online support. They have gone above and beyond to ensure that the people they care for have the latest COVID information and guidance to enable them to live safely at home. Many of our staff continue to work remotely from home to support our clinical services.

“As a whole, our staff really have been amazing.”

It isn’t just hospitals that have had to change the way in which they work, coronavirus has also seen hospices work differently.

Acosia Nyanin, chief nursing officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House closed for routine respite breaks and day care services in accordance with government guidelines. However, that did not mean that care stopped.

Some of the care team were redeployed to their sister hospice, St Barnabas House, while others went to support local NHS hospitals.

The remaining team continued providing respite care for exceptional circumstances, end of life care and bereavement support. Throughout the pandemic, the care team remained in contact with the children and families they care for, offering regular telephone support and community visits (in full PPE and fully risk­ assessed) to those who were still happy to receive them.

“Our aim throughout the pandemic has been to keep any disruption to an absolute minimum and ensure that we can continue to support the children and families who need us,” explains clinical nurse manager, Anna Jones.

Chestnut Tree House Hospice clinical nurse manager, Anna Jones

“At first we felt worried and apprehensive. But what I have had the privilege of being part of and witnessing has been the most tender, kind and compassionate care that I have seen in a long career in paediatric nursing.

“The battle at the start of the pandemic to make sure the correct PPE equipment was available and being used to making sure that those who needed a test could access one.”

As constraints started to ease, the deployed staff returned and in the autumn, Chestnut Tree House were able to welcome families back to the hospice for day care sessions and started to book routine respite stays for families who need them. They continue to provide telephone support and are increasing the number of home visits and counselling sessions.

Hospice St Barnabas House has seen an increase in caseloads but a decrease in funds.

Ellie Hayter, interim director of adult services at St Barnabas House

Ellie Hayter, interim director of adult services at St Barnabas House said: “Not only have we been providing end of life care for more people at home, but COVID-19 has meant that the length of time we’re caring for them has been much shorter.

“This means we have a much shorter time to get to know patients and families in the same way we usually would as we may only have two or three days together. But our focus remains the same – it is so important to us that people have a choice when it comes to their end of life care and where they want to be. This has been even more crucial during the pandemic with visiting restrictions in place in inpatient settings.

“Helping people to stay at home to be with loved ones has been a huge part of our journey of caring during COVID-19.”

Looking ahead although a vaccine is now being distributed, hospitals are still dealing with many COVID cases.

Acosia said: “Looking ahead we need to stay focused on managing the risks of COVID-19 across our services. We also need to be aware of how the impact of COVID may affect people’s mental health going forward.

“We are aware that many people who have been traumatised as a result of these last few months will need psychological support to help them. Others may struggle with their mental health as a result of the social and economic fallout of COVID-19 and the impact this will have on our communities. In the meantime, our services are experiencing significant levels of need and our staff are working hard to make sure people receive the care they need.

Patricia Marquis, regional director South East Royal College Of Nursing

“As leaders, we have a duty to safeguard the wellbeing of our staff and the wellbeing of our wider communities. To achieve this, we need to ensure that mental health remains very firmly at the heart of national health and care strategy planning, policy development and resource allocation. We need to be relentless in focusing on the wellbeing of our staff and we need to keep talking about mental health and wellbeing.

Patricia Marquis, regional director South East Royal College Of Nursing, said: “We have no way of knowing how long the new ways of working will continue but nurses will carry on regardless – it’s what they do. But nurses are also tired. They are exhausted and they remain chronically understaffed and underpaid.

“There are close to 40,000 nursing vacancies in England and while the warm applause at the start of the first lockdown was gratefully received, nurses are now calling on MPs to give them a meaningful payrise. Nurses don’t want a “COVID bonus” they want to be recognised for their ongoing professionalism and hard work.”

2020 should be remembered as a year we came together and gave thanks to all the hard working key workers and NHS staff.

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