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"It’s an unforgettable experience and an amazing learning opportunity"

Published: 11 May 2020

Anna Hardy is a first year Biomedical Scientist who has recently volunteered to work as healthcare assistant at St George’s Hospital. Anna explains what the experience has been like for her.

“I registered my interest in volunteering by email and the next day I attended training to allow me to work as a healthcare assistant. We were taught how to take and record observations, fill out different forms, perform urine tests and wash and transport patients. I also had to complete IClip training online which took about two hours.

“The same day I was given a healthcare assistant bank Trust ID which is valid for six months. A few days later I was sent HR forms to officially employ me with St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Several days later I received an email from the Head of Nursing asking for my availability over the next couple of weeks and I was booked onto shifts.

A challenging environment

“My first shift was in general ICU (intensive care units) and I was assigned to look after six patients. Each of those patients was critically ill and connected to the ventilators. They all had their own nurse and my role was to support those nurses.

“I did things like taking hourly observations, helping nurses wash and turn over patients, stocking the trollies with medical supplies, taking samples to the lab, calling relatives, taking patients for procedures around the hospital, answering calls or just bringing things from stores for nurses.

“I must admit, it is a challenging environment and you see people suffer and die but you also see some interesting cases that you would never see under normal circumstances.

“PPE (personal protection equipment) is freely available in the wards that are treating Covid patients. It is required for attending possible and confirmed Coronavirus patients in a general ward area - provided you are not undertaking any aerosol generating procedures - and also for possible and confirmed Coronavirus patients if you are undertaking an aerosol generating procedure.

A rare opportunity

“I recently completed my first shift in Mc Kissock ward which is a step down from ‘Covid ICU’. I was asked to work as a ‘runner’ in the clean area to support the nurses who work in closed Covid bays.

“My main role was finding the right medication and medical supplies and pass it to the nurses. If you work in the clean area, you must wear: a type three filtering face piece mask, goggles and surgical hat to cover your hair. If you need to enter the Covid bay you need to wear the same PPE as in clean area plus surgical gown, two pairs of gloves, visor and overshoes

“One night I was working in Mc Kissock ward and I was asked go into the Covid bay to support the nurses. There were six patients on different kinds of breathing support, three nurses and two healthcare assistants (myself and a penultimate year medical student).

“While the nurses were giving medication and doing procedures from the care plan, my role was recording hourly observations on each patient and to immediately report any abnormal reading. I had to monitor things like temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and urine output. I also documented metrics such as breathing support parameters from the ventilator, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and blood gases test results. I also had to calculate fluid output, measuring blood glucose or requesting medication from the ‘runner’.

“I spent quite a lot of time talking to the patients. Most of the patients that night were weaning off sedation and had significant difficulty breathing. Understandably, they were very anxious and agitated and I tried my best to comfort and reassure them.

“Working in Intensive Care is challenging, twelve-hour shifts can feel like a lifetime because so much is going on. At the same time, it’s an unforgettable experience and an amazing learning opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise had as a fist year Biomed under the normal circumstances.

“It’s very rewarding seeing the patients making progress and being discharged from Critical Care. It is a difficult time for everyone but we have a rare opportunity to help our hospital deal with the crisis.”

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