Ged Swinton: Covid from my perspective

 Ged Swinton 2 Jun 2020

Covid has been a significant challenge across the globe as Chair of the South East regional board I have suspended my ANP training and returned to my first discipline of critical care to help in the covid response for critical care beds.

It has been a time of mixed emotions: anxiety high prior to the shifts not knowing what I will be faced with; how will I integrate in a team whom I cannot see as our faces are covered (of course @SamIAm_UK solved this with her brilliant scheme to produce photo ID that patients could see).

Confidence gaining as I remember the physiology and techniques that I used many years ago on a daily basis, then the anxiety again… has it all changed? What’s the evidence base etc etc. I am proud to have contributed in my own small way into providing critical care cover and also supporting nurses going through a difficult time.  I have recently received notification that I need to shield so will be unable to work in that environment at the moment. As my time in the front line of Covid 19 critical care response is winding down due to my personal health issues, I have had some time to reflect on some of the good and some of the less good things about nurses and nursing that have been witnessed during this extraordinary response to this health crisis.

Throughout this, the mobilisation of staff, skills and equipment, nurses have been key players in the planning the innovation and operational delivery of care in the crisis. It struck me that nurses have always been crisis managers, juggling competing demands in a clinical area ensuring that one patient is physically assessed and urgent interventions are in place to prevent a peri arrest situation or another patient who is scared and needs a nurse to explain how their condition will affect the rest of their life or yet another patient who has loose stools and is desperate to use a toilet in a dignified manner. To the outside observer these situations may not seem like crisis, but they are crisis to the individual patients. We as nurses manage these situations and countless others as routine, nothing special. The skills that we employ in these situations have been amplified and focused to a crisis with potentially significantly higher consequence. Nurses have in the last few weeks planned, strategized, adapted and innovated. They have volunteered for additional duties whilst putting themselves at risk, mostly without recognising the cohesive and collaborative manner in which these tasks have been carried out. Nurses are carrying out heroic acts, but we are not heroes. Being a hero is a superhuman feat where we are invincible. We are not invincible we are human; we are allowed to be anxious about our safety, about the future we are allowed to not be OK. It is normal human behaviour to run away from danger, somewhere in our lizard brain it tells us to run away from danger and death yet as nurses we plan to put ourselves alongside those who are dying.

This situation is something we have coped with time and time again: too many patients not enough staff and kit, the challenges in essence are the same albeit amplified.  I see in colleagues a glimmer of recognition of the organising and leadership skills that nurses possess, the comradery that says “I am part of the nursing family”. Nurses returning to clinical practice to support colleagues relearning and updating skills that one thought they would not be using again. Nurses in clinical practice teaching and supporting those who have come into help providing formal and informal support to those of us who are required to refresh long forgotten skills and methods. One of the key roles that I saw time and time again is nurses looking out for each other, most evident in the donning and doffing processes where I was often carefully taped into my PPE to ensure that I was protected and safe. I of course returned the favour and it struck me that all nurses care about each other. When faced with overwhelming odds we work together and we can overcome just about situation and still maintain our individual humanity. Because this is part of our make up as nurses it is possible to dismiss the extraordinary work we do.

On Nurses’ Day, many of our planned celebrations were either muted or cancelled as all our energies and focus were directed at protecting the public dealing with Covid 19. The same day plans were reportedly leaked from HM Treasury where public sector workers would be once again subjected to a pay freeze and an attack on pensions.  It struck me that given the extraordinary length all nurses of all grades have gone to maintain public safety, that this is another crisis about to impact on nursing as a profession. No doubt after covid has become manageable and the “routine work” comes back on stream the pressure on nurses will again build encouraging many to once again leave the profession. I saw on a staff room wall, “what can we do to make work easier for you?” staff had written a pay rise +1 x3. I pointed it out and was met with the response “no point it’s not going to happen”.  In a way that is correct, if we carry on in the same vein as previously with infighting, apathy or blindly following a political tribe because of the colour of the scarf then we will get what we always have got. If however we stand together and use our intrinsic skills to organise, focus, plan, strategise and deliver we will engender change for the better whether you are a student a HCSW a nursing associate a registered nurse a matron a researcher or a chief nurse.

2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, it has been a perfect example of nurses as organisers, as determined resilient compassionate professionals. If we remember the key skills we possess and have demonstrated in the management of this crisis and recognise the value of supporting each other being kind and working together we can change nursing conditions for the better across all sectors.

I would hope that once things begin to return to “normal” that we can celebrate nursing and our achievements in style and move forward together using the belief of the public and our skills to overcome any obstacle.  We have 450,000 members across the UK. What if every member committed to 1 hr a month in supporting RCN activity? What could we achieve with 450,000 hrs worth of work from skilled intelligent professionals every month? I believe that as we move forward through this crisis the need to look after our own safety first is a principle concern. That may be financial safety, safe staffing numbers, a workplace safe from bullying, a workplace that provides all the appropriate equipment and treats staff well. All this can be achieved if we all stick together and work towards a focused goal.

I will finish by reminding you all to remember your safety is paramount and that the RCN is here for you. If you require any support in any situation, please contact us.

Ged Swinton

Ged Swinton

South East Board Chair

Ged is the South East Board Chair and Chair of the Southampton and Isle of Wight Branch. Ged is a long standing RCN Steward and Clinical Nurse Specialist at Southampton General Hospital.

Page last updated - 31/10/2020