Nursing in a pandemic

Nursing support workers share their stories and advice in the midst of COVID-19

Lowri Williams on her role as a health care support worker during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ultimately a hospital can’t run without health care support workers (HCSWs). Our skills are needed during this pandemic. We’re usually the first on-hand to report patient changes.

Right now, I’m a full time HCSW in the community, but I also work on the bank in the acute sector for Swansea Bay Health Board. 

On my ITU shifts it’s non-stop. I don’t even have a moment to take off my mask. If patients are ventilated, it can take 10 staff to move them. A&E is also busy – patients with symptoms are quickly transferred. 

Lowri Williams

I find it hard to deal with the fact that patients are not able to see their relatives, especially in ITU where some patients will die. It’s very difficult for staff to be their emotional support but currently we must be all-rounders.

At the time we just get on with it, but later it comes back to us

I’m just there on the bank but some are there day-in, day-out. At the time we just get on with it, but later it comes back to us and this is difficult to deal with emotionally.

Keeping up with the guidelines is very challenging too – things seem to change just about every day.

There have been positives though. The team support is so strong. We’re more like a community right now – the whole health team have been brought together. My manager has been supportive too – with a strong emphasis on our wellbeing.

‘I’ve never been prouder’

Lindsay Cardwell, Chair of the RCN Nursing Support Workers Committee, says it’s important to acknowledge the impact of what you’re doing

COVID-19 is presenting challenges for the entire health care team and huge numbers of nursing support workers are caring for frightened people on a daily basis, while dealing with their own personal concerns.

In care homes across the UK, support workers make up the majority of the nursing team. The emotional and physical tasks they undertake cannot be underestimated.

With relatives unable to visit residents, you are helping support families in new ways while providing reassurance and care.

Many are feeling the pressure

Some have moved in to minimise the risk of exposure and others are communicating final messages from loved ones to residents. This is powerful and essential.

Many are feeling the pressure though. If you’re being asked to do anything you feel you’re not appropriately trained to do, or if you’re being told to put yourself in a dangerous situation, perhaps if you haven’t been given the appropriate PPE, be confident to raise your concerns.

The RCN is here to support you. Get in touch with RCN Direct or your nursing support workers committee member if you need help. We are here for you.

It’s important that we recognise the impact this global health crisis is having on all health care staff, including nursing support workers.

But it’s equally important to acknowledge the impact that nursing support staff are making.

As Chair of the RCN Nursing Support Workers Committee, I have never been prouder to represent support workers across the UK.  

Evan Keir, RCN Council member for nursing support workers, stresses the importance of self-care 

As many have come to learn recently, we are essential, in every way. We matter. 

As caring professionals, we devote our efforts to enabling and empowering others, more so in trying times such as these. We give and we help. 

It’s therefore so important right now that we take the time to look after ourselves, to ensure that we have the strength to strengthen others.

Evan Keir
I can reassure you that now, as before, the RCN is here to help and support you to continue your essential work and to safeguard your wellbeing.

To do this the RCN has a range of services such as counselling, financial assistance, learning resources and more. I’d encourage you to access these either on our website or by contacting RCN Direct.

We are needed now more than ever before


The RCN is here to advocate for you and ensure that your vital work gains tangible recognition, so that you can do your job safely with the right protection at the right time. 

Every day the RCN is representing you, ensuring that your voice is heard where it matters most.

I believe this is of vital importance especially for nursing support workers like you and me, voices that are often absent.

So, make sure your voice is heard. Speak to your reps, engage with other members on social media, be vocal. If you would like to contact me personally, I am always happy to help.

We are needed now more than ever before. Look after yourself and know that the RCN is here to care for you, while you’re caring for others.

Ofrah Muflahi, RCN Professional Lead for Nursing Support Workers, talks about the pressures on nursing support workers during this pandemic

On a daily basis nursing support worker members are contacting me, telling me how they are working collaboratively with registered nurses and other health care staff. 

The added pressure of COVID-19 is immense and many nursing support workers in, for example, the care home sector have reported they have struggled to get appropriate PPE and adequate financial support to maintain a fair standard of living. 

Ofrah

Stories of personal and professional commitment can be seen everywhere across the health and social care system, all to protect and safeguard patients, carers and their families. 

This is the very essence of compassionate care and this is the golden thread that runs through you all. This must be acknowledged. 

Challenging times

I appreciate the challenges of COVID-19 and hear about these daily in my current role. I have also lost loved ones myself. 

It saddens me every time I hear of a life lost as a result of COVID-19. My heartfelt condolences go out to every family that has lost a loved one.

During this time, it’s important that we maintain our utmost respect for everyone. We must not underestimate the importance of the role we have in order for the public to trust us to do the very best for their loved ones. 

We are and will be here for you when you need support

As a professional nursing union, I want you to know we are and will be here for you when you need advice, support or representation at work and are working through this pandemic and beyond.

If you find yourself in this situation, please talk to someone as early as possible. Reach out to your RCN rep, your regional office, RCN Direct or, if you think this is connected to the fact that you are a nursing support worker, contact your RCN Nursing Support Workers Committee member. 

Everyone will have a different experience of working in this pandemic. In most cases, barriers that were there before are being broken down.

But right now it’s more important than ever that we build on those lasting working relationships, respect each other’s value and continue to work together.

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