‘Very difficult time’: East Anglia’s chief nurse on coronavirus, PPE in hospitals and more
The East of England’s chief nurse, Catherine Morgan, opens up about the challenges on Covid-19 in hospitals during Nurses’ Week – and her hopes it will lead to an even greater appreciation of the NHS.
It is the challenge of our lifetimes - and no-one is being tested by the coronavirus crisis more than nurses bravely risking themselves to fight Covid-19 on the frontline.
But despite being frank about the difficulties they face – including exhausting hours, changed responsibilities and the need to manage PPE stock levels – East Anglia’s top nurse is confident they are rising to the challenge.
Catherine Morgan took over the role helping to lead nursing care across the region in mid-March, the very moment the pandemic hit home.
Even for one of Anglia’s most experienced nurses, with 28 years under her belt, starting her job at the same time as a global health emergency can only have been a baptism of fire.
Yet Ms Morgan, previously director of nursing at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said she is helping to put in place the best possible support for NHS staff – amid fears of the pressure it could take its toll.
While she stressed that East Anglian nurses are “coping remarkably well” and “doing an incredible job” in the circumstances, she said: “This year, everyone is going through such a challenging time with the coronavirus.
“It’s a very difficult time for everyone, because they are having to work so differently.
“They’ve had to be flexible – there are nurses who have changed to work in more clinical-based roles and nurses who are retired have come back.
“I’m amazed every day by the work of healthcare staff.
“However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult and they’ve been experiencing that challenge like the rest of the population.”
‘They recognise the need to step forward’
Ms Morgan, who helped lift the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn out of special measures as its chief nurse from 2013 to 2016, said the pandemic had “required a lot of effort with coordination” of people’s roles.
That has meant some have to temporarily changes jobs to bolster the fight against Covid-19, she said.
“I think people have been willing to be flexible,” she said.
“They recognise the need to step forward to do that. I want to extend my gratitude and thanks to everyone.”
Many of those have required extra training to allow them to adapt their skills to new medical discipline, which has been another logistical challenge.
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However, Ms Morgan - whose role covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Essex, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes - said: “There’s a realisation that, whatever you’re doing in response to this pandemic, it can have a potential impact – depending on your personal circumstances.”
The job, with nurses putting themselves at risk of catching Covid-19 to save others’ lives from the illness, is arguably tough enough.
Ms Morgan also recognises that many nurses are living away from home, to protect family and loved ones.
As such, she said: “Staff wellbeing is at the top of the agenda.”
She said there are many ways those struggling with the pressure can reach out for support, whether it be through colleagues, managers or confidential helplines set up at hospitals.
“The main thing is we need to make sure everyone is supported as an individual,” she said.
“Everyone is going to have slightly different needs.”
Do nurses have enough PPE?
Asked what PPE stocks are like in East of England hospitals, Ms Morgan said: “It is a global issue and East Anglia isn’t impacted differently to anywhere else as a region.”
She said making sure there are enough supplies is a “priority”, adding: “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’ve got PPE available for the right people in the right place.”
She said the key is to “coordinate stocks so staff have access to the right PPE when they need it”.
The key to that, she stressed, is hospitals working together – not just in East Anglia, but across the country.
Ms Morgan also said it was important staff wear PPE which is appropriate to the situation they are working in.
Are there enough nurses?
Asked about current staffing levels for nurses in the Anglia region, Ms Morgan said: “The East of England, pre Covid-19, isn’t different to anywhere else – and there is a national shortage of nurses.”
There is no suggestion any hospital wards have been left under-staffed during the coronavirus pandemic, but Ms Morgan said there is an ongoing need to recruit nurses.
Part of the problem, she said, is that “people can perhaps have a narrow view of what a nursing career can look like”.
She added: “It’s a lot broader than just working in a hospital. There are so many opportunities in nursing.”
Other professions have said the rural nature of counties like Norfolk and Suffolk can make recruitment difficult, but Ms Morgan said every region has its pros and cons.
She said part of the attraction is to showcase the rural benefits of life in East Anglia.
However, while Ms Morgan said “no-one would want positives to be seen in something so devastating as this pandemic”, she added: “I hope people see this and feel inspired by the work people do in healthcare.”
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