Diary of a returning nurse during Coronavirus

The call came in mid March 2020. Would I be interested in coming back to my old Intensive Care Unit? The caller, my friend and an ex colleague. My first reaction on being asked the question was 'No way'! I had been away for too long from patient facing clinical work. Although still registered as a nurse and still able to fulfil all the requirements for the Nursing and Midwifery Council in order to call myself a nurse, I have been working in primary care education with GPs, Practice Nurses and General Practice Staff for the last 17 years. Despite my initial reservation, there was however just a small part of my inner nurse that was shouting "yes, why not"?! After discussing this with the family, I agreed.

At that point in mid March, I still had training commitments and I had a business to run. Within a week or so, and with those daily announcements from Downing Street things changed rapidly and I was soon twiddling my thumbs and mentally preparing for the challenge ahead. People kept asking how I was feeling, how brave and courageous I was. I didn't (and still don't) feel afraid of the coronavirus and I didn't feel particularly brave or courageous. What I was more concerned about however, was the technology and advances in care since I last looked after a ventilated patient, where to park at work (the local hospital was notoriously bad for parking) and what shoes to wear with my scrubs (sartorial stress for a returning oldie, more on this later!)

As my ICU colleagues were all busy preparing for Covid-19 patients due to be arriving any day, I was put into the hands of the HR department. Now as many of you will have experienced, the NHS does not move fast. It's great in an emergency and if they are genuinely worried about you as a patient, but from my experience, this was a long and painful process. You wouldn't have believed that there was a national emergency and a shortfall of experienced nurses.

Mine was supposed to be a fast track application as I had worked in quite a senior role on this intensive care unit in the past, and I was still registered. After a week I was sent a 9 page application form to complete. After another week they sent more forms to complete; New Starter form, Declaration form, Occupational Health Questionnaire, Pension form, ID badge application, Parking permit (phew!), Uniform application (even though they didn't need this as I was to work in ICU where they wear scrubs) and forms for my DBS check (Police check). Two senior nurses interviewed me, they then took up two references, and I had to complete about 30 hours of mandatory induction online training. I eventually received my occupational health clearance and a shiny pair of clinical, wipeable 'Croc' type clogs, ergonomically designed for 12 hours on the feet and I was good to go.

Towards the end of May (six weeks after that initial call from my ex colleague) I started back on the nurse bank. Since then I have been working one or two shifts a week on ICU. I arrived on the frontline too late to help in a truly meaningful way - the number of Covid patients was decreasing daily - most were improving slowly and being discharged to the wards fortunately. However, I am now ready, willing and updated to help again if there is a "second wave" and I have realised I haven't forgotten everything in the intervening 17 years.

Hilary Andrews

July 2020

Update April 2021

A year and a few weeks have now passed since the beginning of what we now call first lockdown. We all managed a fairly quiet summer last year, not a normal summer by any means but a definite lull before the winter covid storm of 2020 aka second and third lockdown. I didn't work any bank shifts at the hospital during August or September at all - they simply didn't need me. However by October the pleas for staff to help with extra shifts started increasing in frequency until by late October they were occurring almost daily. I contacted ICU; "Do you need me back again?". The answer was a resounding "Yes please". So, from the end of October right through until March this year I was called in to help with roughly one 13 hour shift a week. This was now on top of my regular 'day job' which had completely transformed in the interim year from "zooming" round the South East conducting face to face training to everything being done via the online platform Zoom. How a year can change the meaning of an everyday verb to a household corporate name! I was last booked to work on Good Friday (2nd April) but was cancelled at the last minute. ICU was quieter at last - with bed capacity at a level that the regular staff could cope with. I wasn't needed. Let's hope and pray that it stays this way.