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A view from the Coalface: The Impact of COVID-19 on Non-NHS Nurses. 

When the nation stood on their doorsteps last week and clapped our NHS workers, we were also applauding the work that is being done across the whole of the healthcare industry. This very much includes those caring for patients in Nursing Homes and Private Mental Health Hospitals who are working tirelessly to keep them safe. 

News coverage has mainly focussed on the work of the professionals within the NHS in the fight against Coronavirus, particularly in Critical Care.  And there is no doubt this intensified coverage has shone a light on nursing. It has been truly eye-opening and in the face of challenging times, deference for nurses has never been greater. Risking their health and life to care for both those infected, and also the extra pressure put upon caring for non-Coronavirus related patients, qualified nurses are today’s heroes.

There has, however, been strong media coverage about testing, procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the overwhelming response to the call to arms to re-register healthcare professionals as well as half a million volunteers to address, in part, the staffing shortages in the NHS which of course existed long before the outbreak.

I sincerely hope that, even though we must think only of the here and now, there are long term positive effects from the current climate. Attracting more people to nursing qualifications is one, which will hopefully be made more attractive by a return of the nursing bursary, as our health and social care sector emerges as the envy of the world.

Beyond the NHS, the health and social care sector as a whole very much has its part to play, and is experiencing its own challenges caused by the outbreak.

Search Healthcare works in partnership with NHS trusts, supplying staff to hospitals, but also widely to Nursing Homes for older people and Independent Mental Health Hospitals.

While perhaps not considered at the ‘front-line’, particularly during the epidemic, talking to our nurses reveal that the sector as a whole is feeling the pressure and is having to pull on resources, especially since the key message was delivered by the Prime Minister on 23rd March.

We’ve caught up with a couple of our placed candidates to understand their experiences.

The view of a mental health professional

Jellili, a Mental Health Nurse tells us, “there has been an increase in admissions over the last week. Due to the restrictions, and self-isolation advice, many families and carers are finding it difficult to continue to provide the needed support. In those cases, hospitals become the only safe and secure environment.”

This can have an unsettling effect on the wards, which is coupled with staff shortages.

Jellili continues, “nurses and support workers are really having to pull together, particularly during change-over times. We are often having to put in extra hours and work through breaks to ensure that patient safety is maintained. Luckily everyone is united in their determination to get the job done as we know that when people are self-isolating they are doing it for good reasons.”

Furthermore, the pandemic has created a feeling of anxiety in some patients, despite a concerted effort to keep harmony on more acute wards.

“The psychological effects of the Coronavirus, its spread and potential threat has contributed to a number of relapse cases. Then there are the patients who are required to self-isolate, and the changes in behaviour, such as social distancing, which all amounts to a tangibly different environment. Many patients with mental health support needs have underlying physical health issues and that is something we need to be mindful of.”

Nursing Homes across the UK have similarly felt the effects.

The view from the UK’s care homes

Irene works at a large nursing home in South Manchester which has both nursing and residential beds. Since the widespread policy of closing homes to visitors, nurses have been asked to step in and cover nursing duties usually discharged by District Nurses to residential clients.

Skillsets are being put to the test, too, as visits from Tissue Viability nurses and Allied Health Professionals like Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists are more infrequent.

Also, there are frustrations amongst residents, “our clients are continuously needing reassurance and are getting irritated for being kept in their room. It has certainly meant we have had to rethink our activities and constantly having to think of new ways to keep people occupied.”

Furthermore, every time a staff member develops flu-like symptoms and has to self-isolate, there are ensuing staff shortages, but also a reminder that infection is a real risk, particularly in the home where Irene is working, where there has been a confirmed case. At the time of writing, testing is prioritised for specific sections of the industry, and also when symptoms develop. Where there has been potential exposure to infection, everyone is mindful of their own status. PPE, especially masks, are running short.

Resilience and Adaptability

The challenge faced by nurses across the entire sector is the lightning pace at which things are changing. Never before have nurses had to be so resilient but also adaptable. Remaining positive against the backdrop of what is happening now, but also the constant forecasting of what is about to come and how those challenges will almost certainly deepen before any hope of stability is real testament to the remarkable personalities of nurses.

Jellili sums up the general feelings across the nursing profession saying, “it is all our responsibility not just a section of the health industry to treat patients and curb the spread of the coronavirus . As a group, we will work together and we will get it done.”

Search Healthcare’s nursing division supports both the private and public sector by fulfilling permanent vacancies and assigning our own bank of nurses to hospitals, nursing homes, and community services across the UK.

We are currently recruiting RGNs, RMNs, District Nurses, Advanced Nurse Practitioners and Community Psychiatric Nurses.

Whether you’re a qualified nurse, or have experience in support work, then we would love to hear from you.  Contact us to Share your experiences or apply to our nursing jobs today.