Working through the pandemic from a community team perspective
We asked Salli Pilcher one of our Associate Director of Nursing and Quality for Community Services and Integrated Care Communities a few questions on how she and her team have adapted to working during the pandemic this year.
What has it been like working throughout the pandemic?
It has been undeniably challenging for everyone, it’s been an experience that no one ever envisaged or ever wanted to experience, there have been highs and lows whether you are senior nurse like me, a ward or team lead, a staff nurse, health care support worker, therapist, porter, domestic, or part of the administration and support team.
Initially there was a lot of concern, but as everyone has settled in to the routine over the summer months, we got used to the new ways of working and the personal protective equipment that has been required – it has brought out a real team spirt throughout all of our services. There is now relief that the vaccine has arrived and staff are receiving this each day.
Our staff have been truly amazing, resourceful, innovative and flexible and gone above and beyond – that is a statement that has been used and has become a little bit normalised during Covid – but staff really have gone above and beyond, thinking about their duty and patients above all else. For example theatres were turned into an ITU in less than a week, staff retrained, staff from services that were stood down were redeployed and working in areas that were completely new to them. I remember talking to one of our dental nurses who was redeployed as a health care assistant onto one of our acute wards and really enjoyed the experience. Health care professionals are flexible but like any workplace, people become specialised, I have worked in the community the majority of my working life, so helping out in a hospital ward based setting requires skills you may not have used for a long time and working in a specialist service such as sexual health or dental – being deployed into an acute hospital ward setting is a real change and achievement – but that’s what our staff did.
It has taken us all out of our comfort zone and been hard on everyone, there are lots of tired staff as you would expect from a pandemic that has lasted 9 months and counting – but there is a real commitment to do the best for our patients and communities of Cumbria. Everyone has gone the extra mile to ensure our patients their families and our communities are cared for and receive the best care possible whether this is in hospital or at home or closer to home.
I think the hardest part for our staff has been doing all of the things described above whilst going through the same challenges as everyone else has – not being able to see family, juggling child care when schools have been closed, we have had staff having to self-isolate and shield knowing the pressure that puts on their colleagues, some staff have experienced bereavements themselves, some have kept working. We have examples of staff who left their homes so they could protect their loved ones but continue to work.
How difficult has it been for you?
It’s been challenging – personally and professionally. I had Covid early on in March and have been experiencing ongoing symptoms now know as Long Covid – I have been really lucky in the support I have received from my General Practice in Seascale and from our Occupational Health Department and services within the Trust – I have managed to keep working throughout.
I have taken up wild swimming in the lake and have been having TaiChi lessons to help with the symptoms
Can you tell us about some of the things that have gone unnoticed/ things we've maybe not seen on the news with regards to how the health service has been impacted?
I think the one thing for me that has gone unnoticed is the ongoing activity that has continued in the Community and ICCs Services – in our community nursing services and rehab services, continuing to support people in their homes, or residential and nursing homes as they experienced outbreaks and needed support.
The media has concentrated primarily on acute settings, and residential homes, but our community services, community nursing services have continued day in day out 24/7, keeping people at home, supporting people on discharged and helping people to die at home.
The other thing that has been amazing is the way that all partners have worked together, colleagues from general practice, social care, local authority, third sector, acute and community colleagues – all working together for the good of our communities – Microsoft Teams has been a blessing as it has enabled us all to work through some tough issues face to face but safely social distancing from our respective bases.
There have been lots of changes to bases, estates and ways of working both inside of the hospitals and in the community, as health centres incorporate red hubs and vaccination centres…
What has it been like to see the support from the public for the NHS?
The support from the public has been amazing, every time I walk through the public areas in the hospital sites and see all the pictures, rainbows and poems it lifts your heart and now we have the Covid safe Christmas pictures rather than decorations – it’s just lovely.
Everyone in the NHS has really appreciated the support and ongoing support as it’s not over yet… Huge thank you to the public from all of us a NCIC
Tell me a little bit about what your role involves?
I am Associate Director of Nursing and Quality – for Community Services and Integrated Care Communities as part of a trio of Nurse, Associate Medical Director and Associate Director of Operations.
I provide professional leadership, support and guidance to our staff and I am responsible for quality and safety standards with in the following services.
- Community Nursing
- Community Hospitals
- Community Rehab
- ICC Hubs
- Prison Health
- Sexual Health
- Specialist Palliative Care
- Clinical and Health Psychologist
- Physical health Psychology, Chronic Pain
During the early part of the year I was also Associate Director of Nursing for the Surgical and Cancer – Specialist Care Group.
I love my role, I am really passionate about getting the patient and their families the right care, at the right time, every time
How much have things changed/ adapted as a result of the pandemic?
- The whole way we work has changed.
- PPE is essential to safe working practices.
- Our domestic staff are one of the most critical pieces of our jigsaw keeping out environments safe.
- A lot of work is done on the telephone, on video calls, on Microsoft teams.
- Inpatient ward areas have maximised technology to keep patients in touch with family and friends.
Have you had Covid yourself or had to go into isolation at all? If so, what was that like?
It was at the beginning and at was really hard, being so ill, wanting to be at work with everyone else – and from my return in April, its been challenging each day living with Long Covid – but I keep smiling and keep endeavouring to the best I can for our services, team, staff, patients and communities.
Have you treated patients with Covid? What has this been like?
No – but I have supported staff caring for people with covid on a daily basis and understand how challenging this has been especially caring for patients at end of life without family members present. This has been the most difficult part of the pandemic.