What would have we done without you?

Today all our surge staff returned to their normal jobs. For the last ten weeks nurses, physiotherapists, operating department practitioners (ODPs) and other allied health professionals left their usual places of work to help us on our intensive care unit (ICU). After a couple days of extra training, they joined us on twelve hour plus shifts, day and night to support us in our hour of need. For ten weeks they took on some of our work load, shared our worries and burdens, and learnt how bad the situation was. They took this all in their stride.

By late March, we could not cope on our own. We would have had to start taking multiple patients by ourselves and that would not have been safe. So like other NHS workers up and down the country, when we called out, people selflessly came forward. They took over the care of our patients while one ICU nurse would coordinate the care of up to four. It was not ideal, but it meant we could use our specialist knowledge effectively and continue to provide the highest standard of care.

Many had not stepped foot onto ICU before. Some had come out of retirement. Lots stepping back into an area that they had not worked in for a while. All of them were apprehensive. But all them so eager and willing to help. Many told told me they felt like a burden. I can tell you now you were not. Imagine what would have happened if you had not been there. I dread to think.

I remember my first shift with the surge staff. I was working with a senior ODP. I was so blown away with her knowledge and skills. I even joked she did not need me! Another shift I had one advanced physiotherapist practitioner (APP) and one advance nurse practitioner (ANP), together, cared for a patient. We all had strengths in different areas. As we learnt more about them, we were able to use them in combination to provide the care needed for this patient. I was so happy when the APP came to tell me a few days later that the patient had been discharged and was doing well. I worked with one nurse, who normally worked in a wound clinic, on her first day. By her last day, I was proud to see how well she had taken to ICU nursing.

There were so many I have seen progress in their knowledge and understanding over the last few weeks. As time went on, they learnt more and more. They understood our computer systems, where certain stock items were, and how certain bits of equipment worked. All the while knowing exactly when to ask for help. We got into a battle rhythm. Our packed and full to the brim staff room became the new normal. What a team we had become.

The best part was getting to know everyone. Now, every morning when I get into the lift, I know the people making their journey to work too. I wave and say hello to recognisable faces as I pass them in the hospital corridors. I have learnt more about other nursing specialities. I have learnt more about other roles such as ODPs and APPs, to name a few. But they have also learnt about my role as an ICU nurse. The whole hospital has united in a way I did not know that was possible.

Thankfully now at the start of June, the start of summer, things have calmed down. We are back to our normal patient numbers, therefore we do not need the support anymore. So our amazing backbone through this pandemic is leaving us. But I am pleased to say we managed to recruit a few of them into our permanent numbers.

This method worked brilliantly through this peak, however it is definitely not sustainable. It feels nice to only have to look after one patient again. I can physically feel the stress leaving my body, my muscles relaxing as the tension slowly goes. It is not sustainable for our surge staff either. It was not only ICU nurses out of their comfort zone. All of us were working at such high levels of stress for a sustained period of time, we need some normality.

We know this moment of calmness will not last forever. With lockdown slowly being eased, we are already psyching ourselves up for the next peak, and probably the one after that. The surge staff will continue to do a couple of shifts a month with us, to keep those skills up-to-date, ready for when we need them again. We keep being told the NHS coped. One of the reasons we did was because these amazing and selfless people stepped out of their comfort zones, outside their areas of normal practice to do something extraordinary for us and our patients. And I know when they are needed again they will gladly step forward again. We will be forever grateful.

Charlotte, APP by Emily Kew

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