Year of compassion and teamwork like no other

Teamwork, resilience and compassion – these words crop up time and again during any discussion of the NHS response during an unprecedented year in the teeth of Covid-19.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Sunday, 16th May 2021, 4:35 pm
Sue Ewart, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s chief matron for medicine and emergency care. Picture taken before Covid-19.

And this is most certainly the case at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust which runs hospitals and community services in Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Sue Ewart is the Trust’s chief matron for medicine and emergency care, with a wealth of experience, and she says that the past 12 months have been the most challenging of her career.

She previously worked as a critical care matron and had to cope with difficult periods such as swine flu, but ‘nothing like this’ as the pandemic has been so all-encompassing, affecting every aspect of healthcare.

Northumbria Healthcare’s chief community matron, Jeanette Milne.

“The nursing teams have shown their ‘can-do’ attitude with their rapid response to changes, particularly early on when it was a fast-moving situation and we had to adapt to the shifting guidance on PPE and visiting switching to virtual methods,” Sue said. “The inability for patients to have visitors was upsetting for both patients and relatives, but the nurses were also affected by this as they are very aware how integral this is to patients’ recovery.

“The teams at Northumbria have demonstrated their ability to work flexibly and their attitude to change has been outstanding.

“That has been so important when we have had nurses redeploying into several areas including to critical care and the respiratory support unit at a time when they were worried about contracting Covid, joining a new team and refreshing their skills.

“The unknowns have been hard, as it’s always easier when you can plan, but the teamwork has been brilliant to adapt to changing situations.”

The health and wellbeing of staff is of the utmost importance, Sue explained, because they need to be well and supported in order to provide the high quality of care that patients deserve.

“Looking after staff in wards and departments has been a top priority and this includes the matron team, who are themselves supporting the teams on the wards.

“Staff have had to deal with incredible pressure at work, but they have also had the same personal pressures that so many of us have experienced.

“Plenty of initiatives to support staff health and wellbeing of staff have been put in place, but this must be ongoing as sometimes you only really process something once there is time to reflect and look back, after the adrenaline has worn off.

“The phase from November to February this year has been harder because everyone is tired from doing this for so long, but our staff have proved they have an amazing ability to bounce back.”

Hospitals have not been the only front-line during the fight against Covid-19, with Northumbria Healthcare’s community teams continuing to provide both planned and unplanned care for the most vulnerable – and often housebound – in our society.

Community nursing helps patients where they live, enabling safe medication administration for those that need it, wound care and supporting patients and families at the end of their life, as well as providing a supportive bridge upon hospital discharge, all services which have been just as, if not more, important during the pandemic.

Northumbria Healthcare’s chief community matron, Jeanette Milne, said: “In more than 30 years as a nurse, I have witnessed kindness and compassion on many occasions, but over the last year have been humbled and inspired in equal measure by my nursing and allied health professional colleagues working in our communities.

“Everyone across community services has contributed, from healthcare assistants and carers that have facilitated safe and early discharge from hospitals to the occupational and physiotherapy colleagues that have been instrumental in patients’ rehabilitation or our podiatry colleagues who supported the nursing teams during the first wave of the pandemic.”

There has been extra demand on the community teams during the extended lockdown periods as their contribution to healthcare revolves around people at home. Nurses and other staff have supported the most vulnerable at a time when natural support networks have been affected by the restrictions on travel.

“Covid has had a lasting impact on us all,” Jeanette said. “Be that a personal battle to overcome fear of contracting it, those staff who suffered and recovered from it or those staff who were highly clinically vulnerable and had to isolate, but continued to work from home supporting their colleagues as they cared for patients.

“There have been many challenges, beginning with the initial uncertainty, fear, anxiety, along with processing and cascading information to staff to ensure we quickly and safely adopted new working practices to ensure patients and staff remained safe.”

Jeanette added: “For the whole team, there have been lows, not least due to mental and physical exhaustion, but the highs include being humbled by the endless reserve and contributions of staff, and the small things they have done for patients in their care and to support each other.”

Northumbria Healthcare’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, said: “It can’t be said often enough how grateful I am for the efforts of our staff during this past year, when they have really had to draw on their reserves to continue to deliver high-quality, compassionate care to our patients.

“I would also like to thank the public for their support and doing their best to protect our staff and services by following the rules and restrictions even when it has made their lives more difficult.

“There has inevitably been some disruption over the last 12 months, but our teams are working as hard as ever and we are doing our best to ensure that all patients get as timely access as possible to the treatment they need.”